Thursday, July 29, 2010

UN Women – A Callipygian Leadership Quest

On July 2, 2010 the 104th meeting of the 64th General Assembly of the UN voted unanimously to adopt a Resolution on System-Wide Coherence within the UN (UN Doc. A/64/L.56). Contained within this Resolution was the decision to establish a new ‘composite entity’ in the UN – to be called UN Women – by consolidating and transferring to the new entity the existing mandates and functions of the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, and the Division for the Advancement of Women of the Secretariat, as well as those of the United Nations Development Fund for Women and the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women.

UN Women in an early mission statement have declared:

Grounded in the vision of equality enshrined in the UN Charter, UN Women will work for the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and girls, the empowerment of women, and the achievement of equality between women and men as partners and beneficiaries of development, human rights, humanitarian action and peace and security.

As a gynaecologist and as a male I have to be a little careful as to how I address some of the issues that are already being aired concerning the most recent and very significant evolution of the United Nations.

The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the decision as ‘historic’, and declared: ‘It will now be much more difficult for the world to ignore the challenges facing women and girls — or to fail to take the necessary action’

And it is historic, from both a legal and a financial perspective, as the new entity has been granted normative powers (the power to establish rules and regulations that automatically become part of international human rights and humanitarian law) and a budget of about $500million.

As an entity therefore with a very specific ‘genderised’ mandate, even if the impact of the ‘new entity’ for the impoverished Third World woman, the marginalized political woman in traditional societies, the woman victim of war, violence, sex-trafficing etc has yet to be felt on the ground, the western media has already sensed the new power that it gives to the UN female diplomat.

The picture below is from a recent Marie Claire article: 

"The Diplomatic Woman"
All-female ambassadors stage a march of progress past portraits of former Secretary-Generals; 
including a partially obscured U Thant and Kurt Waldheim." 

"Far Left: Jacket, $990, pants, $625, Y and Kei; pumps, $895, bag, $2495, Michael Kors; earrings, $1010, Tenthousandthings; ring, $3740, Kara Ross. Center left: Jacket, $1920, skirt, $875, Peter Som; shoes, price upon request, Dior by John Galliano; earrings, $4180, Kara Ross. Center right: Jacket, $4260, skirt, $720, Dior by John Galliano; shoes, $495, Giuseppe Zanotti Design; earrings, $465, NAG. Right: Dress, $395, Tory Burch; shoes, $645, Sergio Rossi."

The leadership of UN Women, as a position, has therefore the significant potential to exercise very serious political clout, an empowerment enshrined in Resolution A/64/L.56, which determined that the new Under-Secretary-General/head of UN Women shall report (directly) to the Secretary-General and shall be a full member of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination. The Secretary-General is mandated to have the person appointed by the opening of the 65th session of the General Assembly on September 14, 2010 at 3pm.

The Callipygian Venus (Louvre)
CallipygianFunction: adjective 
Etymology: Greek kallipygos, from kalli- + pygē buttocks : having shapely buttocks

This is a 'seat' at the big table! And already it is quite apparent that the ‘beauty’ contest bickering has begun over the choosing of a Under-Secretary-General (or even Ovary-Secretary-General!!) to head up the 'entity'.

In an interview on Voice of America Paula Donovan, co-director of AIDS-FREE World and former regional AIDS advisor for UNICEF, said she was concerned about the selection process. She stated that the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon and others had promised the selected process would be fair, open and transparent. 


Donovan continued,

'They’ve now changed that to open, rigorous and transparent. 
 And somehow fairness has slipped off of the agenda.’

Donovan said that many qualified women (and from reading various articles I suspect that it is very unlikely that a ‘man’ will be chosen for the position!) might be passed over for consideration and that women outside of the U.N. structure or not a favored choice of a head of state ‘have absolutely no information about how they can apply, what the qualifications are. And I haven’t seen anything that resembles fairness or openness and certainly not transparency.’

Ouch. Let the games begin.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Counter-Narratives and the Col du Tourmalet

Counter-Narratives in the Tour de France

This afternoon, home early from work, I watched the last 11km of the 174km 17th stage of the 2010 Tour de France from Pau to the Col du Tourmalet. The Col at 2119m is the highest road pass in the central Pyrenees and the gradient for the cyclists nearing the summit is 10%. At about 10km from the summit the Luxemburger Andy Schleck – wearer of the white jersey denoting best young rider of the Tour – made a determined effort to shake off the wearer of the yellow jersey, and a two-time previous winner of the Tour, Alberto Contador. In the overall classification Contador has an 8 second advantage over Schleck and if he could stay with the younger man on the vicious climb then he would be expected to win the Tour, as he is a better time trialist, on Saturdays time trial stage.

The two men locked horns, and ever upwards on the mist-covered mountain went wheel on wheel. Schleck did most of the work apart from one small burst ahead by Contador. This did not break the younger man. When Schleck pulled alongside Contador he looked across at the champion as if to say ‘who do you think you are?’ But Contador is the man. Through a narrowing corridor of running, clapping, flag-waving, streaking, screaming fans he stayed the course and they finished in the same time, to embrace, to wink at each other.

This was a real contest! I think! The effort expended by both men was almost superhuman in its application and achievement. But was it real? Of course it was real. Was it fair then? Of course it was fair. There were two of them it! Well then, can we believe that it was achieved without the use of drugs? Ah! Now there is the rub.

Cycling, particularly the extremes demanded by the Tour, has long been associated with the utilization of every conceivable pharmacologic and biologic agent that might confer an advantage to a rider, particularly a team leader. There was as a consequence a sense, almost, of a suspended reality – like playing a video game – watching the two men at the edge of their physical envelopes go beyond.

Beyond the horizon they cycled, above the ascent they climbed … into myth.

Once the race is over you wonder. Landis, Roche, Armstrong etc., etc… What is the truth, what is the myth?

Counter-Narratives on a Wet Sunday

Recently, on a wet windblown July Sunday in Ireland, I got a chance to catch up with some of my reading. As always it involves dipping into three or four books at once, a completely inefficient way of reading, which involves a large amount of re-reading whenever I return to where I had thought I was.

One of these books was Karen Armstrong’s A Short History of Myth, published by Canongate. As an aside I liked the typeface of this book. Armstrong obviously generally submits such copious material to her publishers that they to save costs usually release them with a very narrow and condensed typeface as to make reading really tiring. This book is a pleasant exception.

In the very first paragraph, discussing our Neanderthal ancestors' burial rituals – it is thought likely some Neanderthals mated with Homo Sapiens – Armstrong writes,

‘…when these early people became conscious of their mortality, they created some sort of counter-narrative that enabled them to come to terms with it (death).’

And so there it is? Myths are an instinctive counter-narrative to truth-reality and an essential requirement of our being. Truth on the other hand – Felipe Fernández-Armesto considers it a property of language – is ephemeral because reality is contrived.

The Tourmalet mountain pass is a truth-reality, but Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck’s contest, or Eleanor of Aquitaine or the Byerley Turk are already myths.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Nowruz and Nowhere

Equilibrium rather than Equality 
of Women’s Rights in Iran

On the 23 February 2010, at the 64th Session of the UN General Assembly, Mr Al Habib, speaking on behalf of the Islamic Republic of Iran, stood up to thank the General Assembly for adopting Resolution 64/253 declaring March 21 International Day of Nowruz. He said ‘to commemorate Nowruz also means to promote life in harmony with nature, natural cycles and sources of life.’
Nowruz, the Persian New Year is a time of great celebration in Iran and two years ago I had the absolute privilege of being invited into the home of Tehrani friends to celebrate it. At that party were four sisters. Four beautiful, vibrant, highly educated women whose joy and good will lit up the room. And yet as I sat there I could not help feeling that somehow the Islamic Republic of Iran and its 1979 constitution has denied them any chance of being in true ‘harmony.’
They are truly second class citizens. As pointed out recently by both the UN’s Report of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran (UN Doc. A/63/459 October 2008):

'The penal and civil laws contain discriminatory provisions that are in urgent need of reform.'

The Global Campaign to Stop Killing and Stoning Women ( have also stated:

'In the Iranian Penal Code, a married woman has no right to divorce, a privilege which is reserved for the husband. Women have no custody rights over their children after age seven; as a result, women who can obtain a divorce by proving their husbands are either abusive or an addict, choose not to do so fearing the loss of their children. A man can marry up to four wives simultaneously, and may establish a sexual relationship with any other single woman through a temporary marriage without the requirements of marriage registration, ceremony, or obligation to any possible child that may result. In addition, a woman is legally obliged to submit to her husband‟s sexual demands and do her best to satisfy him sexually. Hence if a man is sexually unsatisfied or in an unhappy relationship, he has many avenues open to him to dissolve the marriage and/or satisfy his sexual needs in a temporary “marriage.” However, these legal options are denied to Iranian women, and a woman seeking alternative intimate relationships is, in the eyes of the law, “committing adultery.”'

Under the Iranian Penal code this discrimination begins early. The age of criminal responsibility for boys is 14 and three months whereas for girls it is 8 years and nine months.
God forbid that any of the four sisters I met at the Nowruz party, would be denied love by their husbands or even worse be victims of the domestic violence pervasive in Iranian society. God forbid in searching for a personal harmony with the sources of life such as, for example, satisfying their desire for love or passion, they would consider adultery. This possibility of love or harmony is denied to them. Their husbands have a right to create a temporary ‘sexual’ or even ‘loving’ relationship but they do not.

If married, these beautiful Iranian women, if they do seek out true love, despite the fact there is supposed to be a moratorium on ‘stoning’ for adultery, could be buried in a pit up to their breasts – for men it is only to their waists giving them the slight possibility of escape and therefore under law exemption from punishment – and be murdered in a barbaric fashion by stones prescribed for in the Iranian constitution that are not to big to kill outright and not too small as to have little effect.

(For more on this form of execution – lapidation – see my blog previous blog Lapidation–The Loss of Reason on May 11, 2009)
It is an irony of fact that on the 21 April 2010 Iran was elected to the United Nations Economic and Social Council’s (ECOSOC) Commission on the Status of Women(CSW). I am not certain however that Iran, even as part of the General Assembly’s recent unanimous vote on 2 July 2010 to establish the new body the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women ( to be known as UN Women, will fully support the organizations avowed aim of

 “achievement of equality between women and men as partners and beneficiaries of development, human rights, humanitarian action and peace and security.

In a reply to a ECOSOC’s CSW questionnaire sent to all member states designed to evaluate a 15 year review of the implementation of the Bejing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995) the Islamic Republic of Iran, in a report drafted in 2008 by the Centre for Women and Family Affairs in Tehran declared that,

instead of considering superficial facts regarding men and women’s equality it suggests gender equilibrium as a better option.

Thus Iran is determined to see women’s equality as a matter of equilibrance rather than a matter of right. For Iran’s rulers and lawmakers it is merely a question of balancing the ‘stones’ of expediency that are not too big to give the appearance of killing off the notion of women’s rights altogether but yet again are not too small as to allow the possibility of those rights escaping into harmony.

See Also:

Monday, July 05, 2010

Rihla (Journey 16): Delphi Valley, Ireland – White Ladies and Divils Dancing on Doolough

Doolough, Delphi, Ireland

Rihla (The Journey) – was the short title of a 14th Century (1355 CE) book written in Fez by the Islamic legal scholar Ibn Jazayy al-Kalbi of Granada who recorded and then transcribed the dictated travelogue of the Tangerian, Ibn Battuta. The book’s full title was A Gift to Those who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling and somehow the title of Ibn Jazayy's book captures the ethos of many of the city and country journeys I have been lucky to take in past years.

This Rihla is about Delphi, Connemara, Ireland.

Last weekend I decided to try fly-fishing in Ireland and I headed out to stay with my friend Peter Mantle at his world-famous Delphi Lodge, north of Leenaun in Co. Galway. All day Saturday I fished Finlough and the Bundorragh River improving my technique if not actually attracting much action with that technique, a comparable experience it must be stated, to my adolescent efforts with girls. The conditions according to our gillie were perfect, a filling lake and a river in spate thanks to three days rain and overcast skies with a zephyr wind. Nobody told the fish however. At one point on the Turn Pool a large salmon (approx 10-12lbs) broached five feet in front of me and I swear to God he winked.

The Delphi Fishing Terrain

At about 6.30pm I was fishing the first pool on the river’s upper beat (the last for me) just before the bridge below Finlough. I was about to give up my quest when my fly was suddenly taken, my rod bent and a silver flash drew out the line. In my excitement and ineptitude in playing the fish I allowed it to lodge between two rocks before I could extract it. It was a sea trout (albeit a small one of about 8oz) and no matter how long I waited the fish would not revive. Apart from mouth to mouth I tried everything.

This was a problem. The exhilaration of my first fish caught on a fly replaced by the guilt of having a dead sea trout on my hands. All wild salmon and sea trout in the Delphi system are fished on a capture and release basis and in this aspect I had failed miserably. It is illegal in particular to be in possession of a sea-trout.

Sea Trout

Despite this I felt the fish should at least be recorded and brought it back to the lodge. The looks I got, when they saw the type of fish I’d brought in, from gillies and other fishermen, was akin I suspect to those given to some of our bankers or perhaps to Pierrepoint, the former state executioner.

It was a lesson learnt however and next year I promised to do better.

The following morning the wind was howling as I headed out on a walk from the Lodge towards Doolough lake to the north. As I reached the lake shore the wind appeared to be coming at me from both the south and the west at the same time and the waters were being whipped up in incandescent rage. At that very moment, close to the southern shore of Doolough, a vortex of water some 20 feet across began to form and spinning faster and faster became a whirlwind of spray that stood stationary for some two minutes or so before taking off like a hovercraft across the lake towards me only to suddenly evaporate against the road boundary wall.

An Eddy Whirlwind on Doolough

These eddy whirlwinds on the lake, caused by the shearing forces of opposite winds tunnelling off the mountainsides rather than from the thermal energy associated with waterspouts or tornadoes, are known locally as White Ladies. Sometimes they are known as Water Devils. In mythology, from the Limnades lake-nymphs of the Greeks, the Arthurian Lady of the Lake, to Chalchiuhtlicue of the Aztecs, there is a very long human history of spirits of the lake and they are not necessarily benign.

The White Lady of Doolough

As I watched the White Lady dance across the waters towards me I remembered Malory’s Lady of the Lake in Le Morte d’Arthur demanding from King Arthur the head of a knight responsible for killing her brother in exchange for the sword Excalibur.

Was that brother a sea trout I wondered?

Further Information:

Central Fisheries Board at seatrout08.htm

Delphi Lodge at