UN Appoints Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to Assess Progress of World's Women
(A Press Release from the United Nations Development Fund for Women)

The Perspective

April 25, 2001

United Nations, New York - Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), today announced the appointment of two independent experts, Elisabeth Rehn (Finland) and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Liberia), to spearhead the organization's efforts to assess progress of the world's women, particularly those affected by conflict. Heyzer also announced that Victoria Brittain (UK), internationally acclaimed correspondent and Associate Foreign Editor of the Guardian has agreed to document the findings of Rehn and Johnson Sirleaf for Progress 2002.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was a former candidate for the Liberian Presidency and former Assistant Administrator and Director of United Nations Development Programme's Regional Bureau for Africa and a member of the Organization for African Unity Panel of Eminent Persons to investigate the genocide in Rwanda.

Elisabeth Rehn is the former Minister of Defence and Equality Affairs of Finland and former UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Special Representative and Coordinator of UN Operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Progress of the World's Women 2002, scheduled for release next Fall, will focus on the issue of women, peace and security. The first edition of Progress of the World's Women was launched in June 2000 and focused on the economic dimensions of women's lives.

"The issues at stake are enormous," Heyzer said. "Armed conflict affects women and girls differently from men and boys. These gender dimensions continue to be ignored. Progress 2002 will demonstrate that it is impossible to talk about effective humanitarian responses or inclusive peace processes without taking gender into account."

The Independent Experts will consult with women from war-torn communities, as well as with human rights, humanitarian, development and women's organizations. The first field visit is planned to Colombia in June, followed by Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, East Timor, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone and Somalia.

"We intend to send an unambiguous message to the predators who continue to rape, exploit, torture and mutilate women and girls in conflict situations," stated Johnson Sirleaf.

"Women are rarely protected from these threats," said Elisabeth Rehn, "Warlords have been given more access than women to the negotiating table. In significant measure, what has been happening to women is the strongest reason for the Security Council's recent focus on their protection in armed conflict and their participation in peace processes."

Progress of the World's Women 2002 will develop indicators to measure progress for women affected by conflict. "Ultimately," said Heyzer, "our goal is to mobilise international support for the highest possible standards for women's protection and for their increased participation in peace building."

The Report will uncover the hidden gender dimensions of war. Nearly all girls abducted into armed groups are forced into sexual slavery. The majority become infected with sexually transmitted diseases, particularly HIV and AIDS. The report will propose measures to protect women and girls from being forced into sex for safe passage, food and from other abuses. It will examine the intersection between conflict, HIV and AIDS and gender and find ways to bring a gender perspective into post-conflict reconstruction.

The Independent Experts will be joined by an Advisory Group consisting of leading international practitioners, policy advisers, scholars and civil society leaders. Their first meeting will be held next month in New York.

For almost ten years, UNIFEM has provided catalytic and operational assistance to women in conflict situations and has supported their participation in peace processes. In dedicating Progress of the World's Women 2002 to the issue of women, peace and security, UNIFEM is responding to the General Assembly's call for UNIFEM to continue to raise awareness about and strengthen the capacities of women in conflict situations and promote a gender perspective in peace building activities. The report will also follow up on recommendations made in the September 2000 Report on War-Affected Children by Graça Machel, former first lady of Mozambique and South Africa. In her report, Machel called on UNIFEM to support the preparation of Independent Expert Assessments on the impact of armed conflict on women and on women's role in peace building.

Progress of the World's Women 2002 will also complement the work being lead by the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women as follow-up to the historic Security Council resolution 1325 on women and peace and security.

The United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) has been working for 25 years to promote gender equality, women's development and human rights. For more information, visit www.unifem.undp.org.

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