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Fellowship Report (2004)


Fellow: Asya Varbanova

Fellowship Site: United Nations Development Fund for Women, Regional Center for Central and Eastern Europe, Bratislava, Slovak Republic

Brief History of Organization (founding and salient steps):

The United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) is the women’s fund at the United Nations. It provides financial and technical assistance to innovative programs and strategies that promote women’s human rights, economic security, and political empowerment.

UNIFEM works in over 100 countries to ensure that commitments made by the international community to achieve gender equality, such as the Beijing Platform for Action and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, are fulfilled. UNIFEM also works to incorporate gender concerns into all levels of programming in the UN system and in efforts towards the fulfillment of the Millennium Development Goals.

Departments/Programs in the Organization:

Regional Office for Central and Eastern Europe – Economic Programme.

Responsibilities/Duties/Tasks undertaken by the Fellow:

Assisted in the implementation of Phase I of UNIFEM CEE 2004-2007 Economic Programme, which included a Regional Study on Women and Employment in Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States. Specifically:
• Assisted UNIFEM’s economic advisor in researching and drafting reports on topics to be covered in the regional analysis such as gender pay gap, reconciliation of work and family life, labor market segregation, and female unemployment;
• Assisted Regional Programme Director (RPD) in launching Phase II of the Economic Programme which would include in-depth analyses of women’s position in the labor market in four countries in the region;
• Served as a liaison between the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and UNIFEM CEE;
• Assisted Programme Assistant in preparing regional meeting of NGOs on the Beijing +10 process;
• Compiled material to be included in the annual UNIFEM CEE brochure and on its new website.


• Learning: Greater understanding of the Millennium Development Goals and in particular the linkages between gender equality and the achievement of other development goals; Better understanding on how gender can be integrated in economics, in particular the economic and budgetary implications of gender inequality on the work place and violence against women; Increased sensitivity to the challenges facing women and women advocates in more developed regions where human rights are thought to be already “secured.”
• Achieved respect from colleagues demonstrated by their desire to involve me further in UNIFEM’s work;
• Completed sections (“boxes”) to be included in the final report of the regional study;
• Provided input to paper on “Trafficking in Women and Lack of Economic Opportunities” to be presented at an OSCE meeting on trafficking for the Stability Pact Task Force. The paper will also serve as a basis for a new project on anti-trafficking to be launched by UNIFEM in 2005.
• Assisted in coordinating meetings and events.


Getting accustomed to the UN technical terminology. Learning about the position and relationships between various actors relevant to the work of UNIFEM – from other UN agencies and UNIFEM headquarters, local partners in governments and NGOs, outside consultants, etc.
As my internship lasted a little over 3 months, there was pressure to learn a lot quickly so I could become more involved in substantive programming activities. This was a challenge, but also an opportunity to achieve deeper understanding and contribute more to the work of the office.
During my internship a lot of initiatives and changes happened in the office. For example, two staff members resigned, the new Regional 2004-2007 MYFF (Multi-year Funding Framework) was being written and various decisions needed to be made about future programming activities. Therefore the situation in the office was less ‘normal’ and more hectic. However, this also had a positive impact on my role in the organization in that I was given more responsibility than what I otherwise might have had.

Conferences Attended:

Workshop on preparation for Beijing + 10 attended by NGO representatives and aimed at pinpointing challenges and achievements for women’s rights in the CEE region since the Beijing Platform for Action in 1995.
Conference on Women in the Labor Market to be attended by statisticians, economists, and gender activists which will mark Phase II of the Economic Programme – to be held in November.

Other projects/works started or completed:

Assisted in launching a project on linking anti-trafficking strategies and economic development programmes in order to address the root causes of trafficking in women for sexual exploitation.
Reviewed and analyzed proposals on women’s use of information and communication technologies, gender budgets, and violence against women.
Assisted RPD in formulating UNIFEM’s contribution to an upcoming conference on “Unemployment in the South-East Balkans” organized by UNDP Regional Center in Bratislava.

How has this fellowship changed the ideas and expectations you had before leaving?

The fellowship surpassed my expectations because I had the opportunity to work closely with the Regional Programme Director and to attain a good grasp of how UNIFEM and the UN system in general function on a national, regional, and international level. I became aware of some of the difficulties and opportunities posed by having multiple-layer decision-making and the great need to stay as close as possible to what is happening “on the ground.”

How has your motivation for human rights work changed/altered or remained the same?

My motivation to work in the field of human rights has strengthened. I had the example of people who do not get discouraged to advocate for human rights in the face of indifference and denial of such problems and numerous constraints including financial ones.

Who had the greatest effect on you during your fellowship experience and why?

The Regional Programme Director who was my direct supervisor impressed me with her ability to work with various stakeholders, to bridge differences and to get people to focus on a larger, common cause. She was extremely accessible and open to ideas and discussion of how work in the office can be organized better. She had a rich spectrum of experiences in international work, and was very sensitive to the specifics of the region and what women’s rights advocacy requires in the local context.

How did your perspectives on the world change from interning at a local/national/ international human rights organization?

Interning at an international human rights organization made me more alert to problems which are not widely publicized and might easily get lost in the stream of other issues which dominate the agenda for policymakers, the media, and people in general. Human rights violations such as domestic violence and discrimination in the workplace affect a large number of people in a very tangible way, yet are infrequently given priority on the political and social arena. The internship at UNIFEM made me more sensitive to the gravity and urgency of various human rights problems, which are yet to be fully recognized and acted upon in many parts of the world, including Eastern Europe.

What quote would captivate “a moment” that you had during your fellowship?

While I cannot think of a specific quote, a moment that I would not forget is when my supervisor asked me to participate in the regional conference on Women in the Labor Market, which I helped organize. It will take place in November and will bring local economic expertise together to build on current work under the economic programme.

After completion of your fellowship, how do you anticipate bringing your fellowship experience back home to your local community?

I anticipate to become involved as a volunteer in Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights which have been working with UNIFEM CEE on a website “Stop Violence Against Women” to be used as a resource for women in CEE and the CIS. Through various projects, research, and advocacy, Minnesota Advocate’s Women Program works to improve the lives of women in the United States and internationally. I believe that my experience at UNIFEM CEE can be a useful tool in the work of Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights on the STOPVAW website and on various local projects.

Organizational Profile

Full Name of Organization: United National Development Fund for Women Central and Eastern Europe Office
Abbreviation and initials commonly used: UNIFEM CEE, CEDAW, MDG, RPD, MYFF, UNDP, UNECE
Organizational Address:

Grosslingova 35
Bratislava 81109
Slovak Republic
Telephone number: (421-2) 59337-160
Fax number: (421-2) 59337-171
Email address:

Names of Executive Director and Senior Staff:
Ms. Osnat Lubrani – Regional Programme Director
Ms. Zuzana Krkoskova – Operations Associate
Number of Employed Staff (full-time; part-time): 6 full-time, 3 part-time
Number of Volunteers: 1

Objectives of the Organization:

UNIFEM’s programme strategy is guided by a framework based on promoting women’s rights, opportunities and capacities. Within this framework, UNIFEM focuses on three areas:
• Strengthening women’s economic rights and empowering women to enjoy secure livelihoods as entrepreneurs, producers and home-based workers, especially in the context of new trade agendas and technologies;
• Engendering governance and peace-building to increase women’s participation in decision-making processes that shape their lives;
• Promoting women’s human rights to eliminate all forms of violence against women and transform development into a more peaceful, equitable and sustainable process.

Domestic/International Programs:

UNIFEM's thematic priorities – economic security and rights, women's human rights and governance and leadership – are addressed in relation to regional realities in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Date of Information: September 24, 2004

Information Supplied by:
Asya Varbanova

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