How the potential rivalries of the two UN agencies were put aside
Alain Sibenaler (far right) and UN Women Representative, Marie Goretti Nduwayo (third from left) at the International Women's Day celebrations in 2011. With them are (from left) former UNDP Representative Violet Kakyomia, OHCHR Human Rights Representative Maarit Kohonen Sheriff and ILO Representative Dayina Mayenga.
The creation of UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, was a historic step for the United Nations but for UNFPA, it has raised certain challenges.
In Cameroon, the need for greater co-operation between UNFPA and UN Women led to a collaboration involving the Cameroonian Government that has strengthened the country’s agenda for gender equality and women’s empowerment.
This is the story of how the two agencies found a unified voice to the benefit of Cameroonian women.
UN Women formed for greater impact
At the end of 2010, the Executive Directors of UNFPA and UN Women outlined their vision on how both agencies should operate at the global and country levels. UN Women had been created i n July 2010 by the United Nations General Assembly to accelerate the Organization’s goals on gender equality and the empowerment of women. The move was part of the UN reform agenda, bringing together resources and mandates for greater impact.
At the same time, in Cameroon the UNFPA Country Office had held a mid-term review of its country programme and began preparing its 2011 Annual Work Plans (AWPs). The Representatives, Alain Sibenaler for UNFPA and Marie Goretti Nduwayo for UN Women, saw a golden opportunity to review and strengthen their existing collaboration. “We focused on the comparative advantages of both agencies and on how our respective programme niches complemented each other,” says Ms. Nduwayo.
With this in mind, they met Marie-Thérèse Obama, Cameroon’s Minister of Women’s Empowerment and Family. She welcomed their determination to start a new era of UN co-operation and co-ordination.
Putting the Government in the driver's seat
UNFPA wanted to recognize and significantly strengthen UN Women’s co-ordinating role of the UN System’s operational activities on gender. The clear messages to UNFPA staff and to the UN country team underlining the change and of doing business differently were the basis of a widely participatory co-ordination process.
It led to a meeting between the Ministry and all UN agencies working on gender issues in the country. “We insisted on the need for the Government to be in the driver’s seat,” says Mr. Sibenaler. “The UN system, through UN Women, would provide co-ordinated support to the Government, taking full ownership and leadership on gender and women’s issues in Cameroon.”
They supported the Ministry regarding the creation of a co-ordination unit among all entities of the Ministry – that is, a platform and one-stop shop that would interact directly with the UN System, through UN Women. “This was extremely important as various directorates and project units of the Ministry were used to working directly with separate UN agencies – often leaving government entities and the UN System without properly co-ordinating or communicating among themselves,” Ms. Nduwayo says.
UNFPA provides M&E expert and vehicle to UN Women
The participatory co-ordination process also led to support to UN Women’s co-ordination and convening role. “UNFPA offered a monitoring and evaluation (M&E) national expert to UN Women, to help plan, co-ordinate and monitor the UN system’s activities on gender and interact directly with the MINPROFF’s coordination unit,” says Mr. Sibenaler. “Also, to strengthen UN Women’s operational capacity to carry out its co-ordinating role, UNFPA offered them a project vehicle and a driver.”
“The result of this process,” says Ms. Nduwayo, “was a UN-wide effort to support the Cameroonian Government’s implementation of its National Gender Policy.” She provides details on how this was achieved.
Supporting Cameroon's National Gender Policy
Firstly, UNFPA and UN Women signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to formalize the operational collaboration between the two agencies.
This was followed by the Ministry developing a budgeted Action Plan of its priorities, which it submitted to the UN System. “The centrepiece of the Action Plan is the implementation of Cameroon’s first National Gender Policy,” Ms. Nduwayo explains.
UN Women then helped the Ministry translate its Action Plan into a comprehensive results and resource framework, including new indicators in line with the UN System’s comparative programming strengths. The annual work plans (AWPs) of the UN agencies were aligned to the Government’s Action Plan, avoiding duplication and maximizing their pooling of resources.
The benefits are clear, says Ms. Nduwayo: “UN Women is leading the UN Theme Group on Gender more effectively, speaking with one voice and communicating more efficiently with the Ministry.”
How UNFPA and UN Women share responsibilities
While UN Women plays the overall co-ordinating role of the UN System, it supports the Government on normative and strategic issues such as the National Gender Policy, Gender-based Budgeting and Financing, and Mainstreaming Gender in the revised Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP).
UNFPA helped develop the thematic priority areas on health and human rights under the National Gender Policy. The Fund also led the elaboration of the Government’s National Strategy on Gender-Based Violence. It published a series of evidence-based studies on the socio-economic situation of women (one of the analytical themes of Cameroon’s third Population and Housing Census), the legal status of gender issues, and gender-based violence.
“In addition, UNFPA started building the capacity of rural radio stations on gender-based violence,” says Mr Sibenaler. This was achieved through its decentralized offices and by integrating gender with its reproductive health and population and development components. “We developed a user-friendly advocacy toolkit on how to integrate gender, reproductive health and rights, and the demographic variable into national planning and development frameworks.”
Coordinating support for victims of violence, GBV and fistula
UN Women and UNFPA now co-ordinate their field support to the Ministry’s regional delegations in areas such as the socio-economic re-integration of victims of violence, including obstetric fistula, and establishing local platforms on how to prevent GBV.
The impact has been felt well beyond Cameroon’s borders. “This collaboration has had a positive spill-over effect to the UNFPA and UN Women offices in Chad and the Central African Republic, as both countries are covered by the UN Women Office in Cameroon,” Ms. Nduwayo says.
Some tough lessons and challenges learnt
It wasn’t all plain sailing, however. “The UNFPA/UN Women partnership initially faced some in-house challenges,” she says, but these were overcome. “ By confirming and supporting the Government’s leadership on gender issues, both agencies focused on our collective strengths as a team, rather than each individual agency’s ‘territories’.”
The partnership is a clear example of how to programme pragmatically and implement jointly – without resorting to time-consuming UN or UNDAF Joint Programme Documents. Both country representatives agree that their strong and cordial relation is a sign of mutual trust and confidence. Their will to co-ordinate, share information and deliver jointly has outweighed individual agency turfs and rivalries.
— By Marie Goretti Nduwayo (UN Women), Alain Sibenaler (UNFPA) and Lindsay Barnes