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It Happened at the UN: Week Ending March 15


Young Columbian women with CSW at the entrance to the UN on March 14, 2024
Colombians attending the annual Commission on the Status of Women, from March 11-22 at the United Nations, March 14, 2024. This year’s theme is investing more money in institutions to achieve gender equality and end poverty for women. JOHN PENNEY/PASSBLUE

Welcome to This Week @UN: Japan outs the Security Council; UN experts’ “false promises” on prostitution; UNRWA funding. Plus: Haiti; Sudan; Yemen; Mediterranean shipwreck.

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Our top story this week: UN Rights Experts Make False Promises on Prostitution, an op-ed (reposted in Ms. magazine)

The month: The Key to Security Council Reform? Fewer Permanent Members, an op-ed

Men must stay home: Margot Wallstrom, an ex-foreign minister of Sweden and chair of the Women’s Forum on Afghanistan, a global advocacy group, provoked a roomful of reporters on Tuesday at the UN by asking: “What if there was a country of that size, saying one day from one day to another, now all men have to stay home, cannot go to school, they cannot go to work? If they go outside, they should be accompanied by a woman or their sisters.” Wallstrom was moderating a panel titled “The Power of Inclusion: Afghan Women and Regional Prosperity.” Her question was met with surprised laughs by the journalists. 

Yet her point was made: Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, women have been pushed from the workforce, adolescent girls banned from school and all females are forbidden from public parks unless they are chaperoned by a male. Their diminished role is hurting the country economically, posing a further risk to its own instability and to the Central Asia region, the panelists said.

The talk with the forum members, held during the annual Commission on the Status of Women, was sponsored by the Irish mission to the UN. The panelists were Fatima Gailani, a former president of the Afghan Red Crescent; Fawzia Koofi, a former deputy speaker of the Afghan Parliament; Asila Wardak, an ex-director general of UN Affairs in the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and Naheed Sarabi, an ex-deputy finance minister of Afghanistan.

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They stressed the imperative of women’s participation in all spheres of public life not only as a human rights issue but also as an economic one. As Sarabi said: “It is not about today, just imagine 10 years from now. Women are being deprived of education, who’s talking about the future contribution? If you do not have doctors, engineers, agriculture, economists, and women in the finance sector and 10 years from now? What kind of growth and economic recovery are we really talking about?” 

While Afghan women and their allies do not all agree on whether the world should engage with the Taliban, the panelists also demanded that women lead any international negotiations with the de facto authorities. As Koofi said: “Women should lead this because we have been carrying the fight, at least over the last one and a half years, two and a half years, we have been the main resilience force against Taliban. No matter what we do, what we say, in our own way we have been the main resilience force carrying the burden of what’s happening in Afghanistan. So we need to be put in the center.” — DARSEN HOVER 

From PassBlue this week: 

Japan Says the UN Security Council Is Struggling ‘Day by Day,’ by Damilola Banjo

Japan Envisions a Nuke-Free World, our latest podcast episode, by Damilola Banjo and Olivia Ndubuisi

UN Rights Experts Make False Promises About Prostitution, op-ed by Taina Bien-Aimé

UNRWA’s Money Woes May Be Easing as Some Donors Return, but US Is Unlikely, deep dive by Anastasiia Carrier

Rosângela da Silva, Cynthia Figueredo and Cida Gonçalves
At the women’s conference, from left: Rosângela da Silva, first lady of Brazil; Cynthia Figueredo, minister of women of Paraguay; and Cida Gonçalves, minister of women of Brazil. They met to talk about violence against women in politics. JOHN PENNEY/PASSBLUE

Top UN news:

Monday, March 11

Spokesperson’s briefing: At a high-level meeting organized by the Community of Caribbean (Caricom) on the crisis in Haiti, the UN sent Courtenay Rattray, cabinet chief; Atul Khare, under-secretary-general of the Department of Operational Services (DOS); and Miroslav Jenca, assistant secretary-general in the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA) to participate in the gathering. “Our main message to the meeting is that it is critical that we support the Haitian people with one voice towards finding rapidly a Haitian-led solution to the current grave crisis,” said Stéphane Dujarric, UN spokesperson. In a new survey, the World Food Program found that recent events in the country have “degraded food security even further,” Dujarric said on March 15. People with the lowest levels of food consumption surged from 32 percent to 41 percent. Unicef says that hunger and life-threatening malnutrition are at record highs, especially concentrated in the capital, Port-au-Prince.

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• In a March 11 statement, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US envoy to the UN, said the US “applauds” the Security Council’s unanimous condemnation of the “ongoing violence and human rights abuses […] committed by criminal armed gangs threatening the safety and security of all Haitians.” The State Department is working with the US Congress to send $200 million in funding to a multinational security support mission” to Haiti, Thomas-Greenfield noted, calling the mission “critical” to creating an environment for free and fair elections, as well as alleviating the humanitarian crisis. Yet Kenya, slated last fall to lead the mission by sending 1,000 police officers to Haiti, has put the deployment on hold as Prime Minister Ariel Henry said this week he was resigning and a transitional presidential council plan is reportedly advancing.

Tuesday, March 12

Spokesperson’s briefing: Catherine Colonna, an ex-foreign minister of France, began a five-day visit to Israel, Palestine and Jordan as the leader of a recently formed independent review of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) to assess the agency’s “neutrality” and management in light of Israel’s allegations that 12 UNRWA workers partook in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack. On March 11, Colonna met with the Israeli ministry of foreign affairs, the minister for strategic affairs and representatives of the Israel Defense Forces and the National Security Council, followed by a March 12 meeting with the Palestinian prime minister and the foreign minister in Ramallah. The review group is expected to submit an interim report to UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Monday or Tuesday, Dujarric said; a final, publicly available report is due on April 20.

Participants in CSW at the UN on March 14, 2024
Scenes from the CSW, as it’s called: Women from Guinea, in Francophone West Africa. In a big year for elections globally, 2.6 billion people are estimated to be voting, one way to demand higher investments in gender equality, the UN says. JOHN PENNEY/PASSBLUE

Wednesday, March 13

Spokesperson’s briefing: Malnutrition is “soaring” in Sudan, with 18 million people facing acute food insecurity, putting the country “on track to becoming the world’s largest hunger crisis,” Dujarric said. The UN saw “alarming reports of child deaths related to malnutrition, including at displacement sites in Darfur,” he added, and UN partners working on malnutrition said that without urgent aid, “220,000 severely malnourished children and more than 7,000 new mothers could die in the coming months.” Nearly a year into the war between the Sudan army and its main rival, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), the former gained a major advantage when it announced on March 12 that it took control of the country’s national radio and television headquarters.

Thursday, March 14

Spokesperson’s briefing: After his briefing to the Security Council on his latest mediation with Yemen, Hans Grundberg, UN special envoy, told the members: “Although we have tried to shield the peace process from regional developments, since the war in Gaza, the reality is, and allow me to repeat myself, that what happens regionally impacts Yemen — and what happens inside Yemen can impact the region.” Afterward, Grundberg told reporters that the “continued escalation in the Red Sea is complicating the mediation space for finalizing and implementing the United Nations roadmap” to peace in the region. 

Friday, March 15

• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) expressed its “deepest sorrows” regarding a rubber dinghy of migrants that left Libya and got lost in the central Mediterranean Sea due to an engine failure, causing 60 people to die from hunger and dehydration, while 25 were rescued by the humanitarian group SOS Mediterranée. The UNHCR said that “desperate and vulnerable people should not be compelled to risk their lives in search of safety” and that “alternative pathways are urgently needed.” The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said last week that 2023 was the deadliest year for migrants since records began a decade ago. At least 8,565 people died on migration routes worldwide, a 20 percent rise over 2022. 

Reception in Celebration of Ukrainian Women's Leadership on March 11, 2024
A reception celebrating Ukrainian women leaders and honoring the Ukrainian delegation to the CSW, held at the Ukrainian Institute of America, New York City, March 11. The guests included, from left: Lydia Zaininger, head of the Ukrainian institute; Melanne Verveer, head of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security; Irina Borovets, deputy minister of foreign affairs of Ukraine; Kateryna Levchenko, Ukraine’s commissioner for gender equality policy; and Yevheniia Kravchuk, people’s deputy of Ukraine. JOHN PENNEY/PASSBLUE


• The Open Society Foundations (of which PassBlue is a grant recipient) has named a new president, Binaifer Nowrojee, succeeding Mark Malloch-Brown.

• “Portraits of Progress: Women Powering the Global Goals”: an exhibition at the UN in New York City by Vital Voices Global Partnership, on investing more in influential women who are “solving the world’s greatest challenges.”

• A new Women, Peace and Security Conflict Tracker, produced by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, offers “gender-sensitive insights” into today’’ conflicts.

Inter-Parliamentary Union’s annual year in review, 2023: Globally, the share of women MPs was 26.9 percent as of Jan. 1, 2024, only 0.4 percentage points higher than a year earlier. This represented a similar rate of progress in 2022, but slower than in the preceding years.

UN Development Program Human Index, a summary measuring the average achievement in key dimensions of human development: a long, healthy life; being knowledgeable; and having a decent standard of living.

We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts on the hunger crises globally?

Arthur Bassas is a researcher and writer who graduated from St. Andrews in Scotland, majoring in international relations and terrorism. He lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., and speaks English and French.

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It Happened at the UN: Week Ending March 15
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