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As a talk radio/media person, I hear plenty about the United Nations.
The two anti-U.N. opinions I hear most frequently are that the overall goal of the U.N. is to take over the world and that the black helicopters are just waiting for the right moment. The second refrain I hear most often is that the U.N. is ineffective. Covering the U.N. all these years, I can assure you that it has no plans to take over the world and that there are plenty of things that the U.N. does extremely effectively.
During the last two weeks, there have been two U.N. campaigns that have the potential of changing people’s lives in a major way. The first is World Toilet Day, a campaign to increase sanitation.
While it may sound like potty humor, Ambassador Karen Tan from Singapore, whose country sponsored the resolution making a World Toilet Day, said the statistics are quite sobering.
Tan noted that 2.5 billion people do not have access to sanitation, including 1 billion people who are forced to defecate in the open. This problem leads to 1,400 deaths every day.
The U.N. Millennium Development Goals, an eight-pronged project, seeks to drastically improve global access to improved sanitation by 2015. This includes better sewer and septic system connections, pour-flush routines and ventilated, improved pit latrines.
Beyond sanitation, improvements in this area also benefit women. The lack of private toilets in schools is a major reason why girls do not continue their education, according to the U.N., at a great economic cost to the developing world. One in three women risks harassment and attack because they lack a toilet.
One UNICEF campaign-taking place in India includes a pamphlet urging individuals to “Take Poo to the Loo.” The backside of the card has a drawing of “poo” that says, “Help me! I am lost. Please show me the way.”
Another campaign that the U.N. has championed is the secretary general’s campaign to UNiTE to End Violence against Women. It is not just one-on-one violence that women experience but also the consequences to women mean they do not fully participate in their respective societies. According to the United Nations, women lack access to health, police, social justice and support to ensure their safety.
I work in South Sudan, where often a good husband is considered one who does not beat his wife, so the campaign that UN Women has begun makes small but very effective differences in countries such as South Sudan.
There is a six-step approach that they believe makes a difference. It includes expanding access to services by providing health care for any domestic violence injuries, as well as providing post-rape care and counseling as well as education and medical care for reproductive health needs.
The target area of safety in public spaces includes education to stop harassment of women. The Safe Cities program, which includes major cities in the developing world, has not moved to more rural areas such as in South Sudan, but it easily can in the future.
One part of the U.N.’s work is to take advantage of the Internet. It has begun a Virtual Knowledge Center so local and national governments can implement “laws, policies and programs” with recommendations from around the world.
We know there is genius in crowd sourcing, and the U.N. manages the U.N. Trust to End Violence against Women. It has given grants to 368 initiatives in 132 countries with a total of $ 95 million given. This is a great way to let local people experiment and to find out what works and what does not.
UN Women has also devoted its efforts to advocacy and education for prevention. On the advocacy front, it has decided that the 25th day of every month will be the day to raise awareness, asking countries all over the world to take concrete action to end violence against women. Its other action on education and prevention brings in young people to work on this issue by using the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts to help end violence to girls and young women age 5-25.
Will this work? Only time will tell. It is difficult, and just in one country, South Sudan, it is a tall order. Violence against women has been going on for centuries, but there is hope that the world’s newest country can change the course of history and change not only individual women’s lives but the entire country.