March 9, 2021
By Philippe Mottaz - Jamil Chade - John Zarocostas
This is a slightly edited version of the March 9, 2021 edition of The Geneva Observer Briefing
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A 40% staff cut at UNAIDS?
The future of UNAIDS appears troubled. The Geneva-based organization coordinates the global response to fighting HIV/AIDS. It has been redefining its strategy over the last few months by engaging in broad consultations with its stakeholders, including civil society, the UN and its agencies as well as its donors. One of UNAIDS main challenges is in delivering services to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS. The pandemic has made an already difficult situation worse in disrupting these services and in shifting financial resources to the fight against COVID-19.
Informed sources tell The G|O that UNAIDS is under severe financial stress and is considering cutting its staff by 40% over the next few years. The plan currently under consideration would first call for eliminating positions left open by staff retirements before making further staff redundant. The retirement scheme alone would lead to a 15% reduction of the current staff over the next three years.
In its last financial report presented in July 2020, UNAIDS disclosed that its budget was US$184.2 million, short of its 2019 target of US$242 million. Knowledgeable sources tell The G|O that the shortfall is due to a decline in funding for the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Global funding for the response to HIV/AIDS declined for the first time in 2018, by nearly US$1 billion, as international donors provided less, and national contributions did not keep up. Nonetheless, in 2018, more than half of all funding in low- and middle-income countries came from domestic sources. In 2018, US$19 billion was available for the response, falling US$7.2 billion short of the estimated US$26.2 billion needed by 2020.
An independent audit also revealed important organizational issues, most notably a lack of clarity between WHO’s and UNAIDS’ mandate. Four main risks to the future of UNAIDS were highlighted in the report:
- A decrease in funding for AIDS and UNAIDS
- Unclear roles and jurisdictions in the multi-agency and intergovernmental efforts
- Failure to attract people with the appropriate skills and experience
- Cosponsoring UN agencies have different overall agendas which limit their work on AIDS
Over 25 million people were on treatment against AIDS in 2019, according to the organization’s latest report. The report also reveals that 2019 saw 1.7 million new HIV infections in 2019. Approximately 690,000 people died in the same year from AIDS-related illnesses. The target set in 2016 by the UN General Assembly was to lower that number to below half a million.
UNAIDS did not return The G|O request for comments.
With Trump gone, women’s rights supported again in Geneva
The symbolism was lost on no one: Monday March 8, International Women’s Day saw the birth of a new alliance before the current session of the Human Rights Council to boldly reaffirm that women’s rights are human rights. The political significance of the move was also clear as sixty-two countries took the floor with a joint statement to support women's broad access to reproductive and sexual rights. The remnants of former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s “Geneva Consensus Declaration,” a regressive initiative supported by some of the world’s most repressive regimes to make abortion illegal and prevent policies and funding to be considered in international organizations, were swept away.
The rebuke was led by the Nordic countries, supported by the US, Mexico, and other like-minded countries. In its statement, the group reminded the Council and the international community that “women and girls have faced a roll back on human rights in general and on sexual and reproductive health and rights in particular.”
“In the midst of the crisis, sexual and reproductive health services remain essential, and should be part of national plans dealing with the COVID pandemic,” it said.
The statement also paid tribute to the courage and efforts of feminist movements around the world, particularly targeted by the so-called “Geneva Consensus Declaration.”
“During these challenging times, feminist movements and organizations have remained active and vocal, online and offline, dismantling patriarchal systems and their manifestations, such as gender-based violence and discrimination. Today we salute and pay respect to all the courageous feminist movements, organizations and women human rights defenders around the world. We do see you and stand with you,” the group declared. It includes countries such as Argentina, Australia, Austria, Botswana, Canada, Chile, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, Thailand, United Kingdom and the United States.
The Special Procedures’ Independence threatened at the Human Rights Council
The Human Rights Council’s 46th Session was nearly suspended last week when Russia, Venezuela and China attempted to put an end to its deliberations using a procedural measure to block the continuation of debates. The three countries argued that the proceedings of the Council should be stopped since the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, Joe Cannataci, had not presented his report on time.
A vote was held on Friday upon Moscow’s request. Thirty-one members voted against the suspension of the Council, while six voted in favor and nine abstentions were registered.
However, using Cannataci’s failure to report on country visits is seen by Western ambassadors and observers as a pretext for attempting to rein in the Special Procedures and strip them of their independence. This was no coincidence.
One week before the attempt to block the Council, Russia’s brutal violations of human rights was denounced by Agnes Callamard and Irene Kahn. The two UN rapporteurs demanded an international investigation into the poisoning of Alexei Navalny remain a priority.
“We believe that poisoning Mr. Navalny with Novichok might have been deliberately carried out to send a clear, sinister warning that this would be the fate of anyone who would criticise and oppose the Government. Novichok was precisely chosen to cause fear,” said Agnès Callamard, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and Irene Khan, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
The two UN experts published an official letter sent to the Russian authorities in December 2020. In it, the experts detail the evidence pointing to the very likely involvement of government officials in the poisoning, presumably at high level.
Elsewhere in the Ecosystem:
Huge Gender Gap in Innovation, according to WIPO
The latest preliminary data metrics released by the World Intellectual Property Organization show that women represented only 16.5% of inventors named in international patent applications filed in 2020, up just 3.7% from a share of 12.8% in 2010.The low representation of women in international patent applications, WIPO said, is concerning, indicating that “women's innovative potential is severely underutilized. This gender gap in innovation is everyone's loss.”
The data reveal that at the current pace of growth, gender parity in innovative activity will not be reached until 2058 and that the divide in this important area for the 21st century economy is substantially greater than the closely tracked gender pay gap where the International Labour Organization estimates women “continue to be paid on average 20% less than men across the world.”
Fields where female inventor share was highest in 2020 included Biotechnology (29.5%), Food Chemistry (29.2%), Pharmaceuticals (28.6%), and Analysis of Biological Materials (25.9%), while the female inventor filing share for IT methods and management and for medical technology, were 16.3 % each, and lower for Civil Engineering (10.2%) and for Mechanical Elements (7.7%) ."
Overall, the female share of total inventors for the top ten application origins by inventor count were women from China with a 22.4% share, followed by South Korea (20.5%), France (18.4%). the U.S. (16.6%), and Switzerland (15.5%).
According to WIPO, in 2020 women inventors filed international patent applications more frequently in Latin America and the Caribbean (19.2% of applicants) than in any other region, followed by Asia (17.4%), North America (16.5%), Oceania (14.9%), Europe (14.2%), and Africa (12.1%).
WIPO says they are actively working towards gender equality in the IP system through systemic gender mainstreaming and targeted activities such as putting the spotlight on barriers that may exclude women from using IP services. In addition, it points out other barriers include the lack of access to networks, mentors, sponsors and role models; scarcity of financial resources, and negative bias.