THE EARTH TIMES
JANUARY 15, 1995
Women demand stronger support for local concerns
By ASHALI VARMA
Petite, vibrant and decisive, Noeleen Heyzer of Singapore, the new executive director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women, (Unifem) has a vision to transform the small but active agency for women into an enterprise that will be the focal point for the development concerns of women for the 21st Century.
She promotes a development agenda for women, which would incorporate the “economic empowerment of women” and “women’s participation and decision making in an increasingly technological world”
Heyzer is the former head of the Gender and Development program in the Asian and Pacific Development Center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. In an interview with The Earth Times, Heyzer spoke about synthesizing and incorporating the efforts of women, who have been in the forefront in making an impact on women’s issues in the last 20 years, in a Platform of Action for the Beijing Conference. “We have had one UN conference after another, starting from the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, the World Conference on Human Rights and the Cairo Conference on Population,” said Heyzer, “now the idea is to see the whole series as a process and to build our agenda for development for women from the input we have already had at these conferences.”
Established in 1976, Unifem provides direct financial and technical support for income generation projects for women in developing countries. Heyzer feels that the greatest challenge they face is to strengthen Unifem within the whole UN system. “It is ridiculous that after almost 20 years our annual funding is only $11.6 million,” said Heyzer. “We need to be taken seriously now and our funding should be nearer $300 million.”
At a time when donor support for UN agencies is going down Heyzer feels that there are still untapped resources for women’s issues. “Immediately after the Women’s PrepCom in March, I would like to strengthen our political constituency, diversify our funding base and use the help of successful women. Heyzer has identified four key strategies: strong financial planning; powerful media and communication campaigns; public education; and the establishment of special task forces and lobbies.
Heyzer said “I would like to see Uniform as a household word.”