UN’s top Arab official reveals women’s rights road map

Jordanian diplomat Sima Bahous vowed to remain in Afghanistan in spite of Taliban

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - December 7, 2014.  HE Dr Sima Bahous ( Assistant Secretary General, Regional Director - The Regional Bureau for Arab States ) speaking at the Opening Session of The First Knowledge Conference, held at Grand Hyatt Hotel.  ( Jeffrey E Biteng / The National )  Editor's Note; Ramola T reports.

Speaking in her new role as head of the UN agency for women, Jordan’s Sima Bahous on Friday revealed plans to fight gender bias, sexual violence and other issues affecting the world’s 3.9 billion women.

During her first press conference in New York, Ms Bahous said she aimed to strengthen UN Women, bolster pro-women campaign groups globally and employ more field support staff to help those in need.

Answering a question from The National, she said she would spend her four-year term ensuring the “issues of women and girls are placed at the centre of the international agenda”.

Ms Bahous, who previously served as Jordan’s UN envoy, an adviser to King Abdullah II and a charity director, started work as the head of UN Women last month, making her one of the most senior officials from the Arab world in the UN system.

She spoke on Friday, when US Vice President Kamala Harris became the first woman to temporarily hold the reins of presidential power as her boss, President Joe Biden, went under anaesthesia for a routine health check.

“It is definitely historic, and we are proud to see that,” she said. “I'm sure all Americans are also proud to see a woman there.”

The UN Women chief started work in October as the Taliban consolidated their hold on Afghanistan after taking control of Kabul in August, reversing recent gains made by Afghan women.

She promised to “stay and deliver in Afghanistan” and continue helping pregnant women, mothers and victims of sexual violence at centres that have increasingly come into the Taliban’s crosshairs.

“Not all of them are open, but a few of them continue to be open and to offer services for survivors of violence against women and girls,” said Ms Bahous.

In the Middle East, she decried child marriage, “honour killings” and female circumcision as well as other issues that “are really entrenched in our societies”, calling for more education and more women in politics to change attitudes.

“UN Women works … to change the rules and the laws … so we can influence positively those practices that are harmful to women and to girls and in many parts of the world, in the Arab world, we are succeeding,” she said.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called Ms Bahous a “champion for women and girls” when he named her for the job in September. She replaced Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka of South Africa, who ran the agency for eight years.

UN Women works globally to help level the playing field for women and girls by bringing more of them into classrooms, workplaces, universities and parliaments and by tackling rampant levels of gender-based violence.

Updated: November 19th 2021, 8:16 PM