UN Women: the United Nations gets its act together on gender

One of the things undermining the effectiveness of the UN’s work on gender issues has been the lack of a single agency with responsibility for the subject. Now, after years of difficult negotiations, the U.N. General Assembly has voted to set up a body that will seek to improve the situation of women and girls around the world. The new body will be known officially as the U.N. Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women,  although thankfully officials say it will be referred to as U.N. Women (website here). It will consolidate four separate U.N. divisions now dealing with women’s and gender issues.

According to the website: “UN Women will have two key roles: It will support inter-governmental bodies such as the Commission on the Status of Women in their formulation of policies, global standards and norms, and it will help Member States to implement these standards, standing ready to provide suitable technical and financial support to those countries that request it, as well as forging effective partnerships with civil society. It will also help the UN system to be accountable for its own commitments on gender equality, including regular monitoring of system-wide progress.”

Michelle BacheletU.N. diplomats said four years of negotiations between Western developed nations and developing countries, many of them states where women are often discriminated against, had been tough because of varying views on women’s rights and gender equality. A new post of under-secretary-general will be created to head U.N. Women, with diplomats saying privately that former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet (right) is one of the top candidates. U.N. Women will become operational on January 1, 2011.

Update: oops, missed this comment from elsewhere in the Oxfam machine. Luckily, it looks like I’m on message:

‘Oxfam reaction to the establishment of a single UN gender equality entity: Daniela Rosche, lead of Oxfam’s campaign in support of the new entity said:

“Oxfam welcomes the establishment of the new UN gender quality entity. A single UN gender equality entity is critical for women everywhere, and especially for women in the poorest countries.”

“However, the proposed mandate of the new entity was compromised during the negotiations. For example, the GA has missed out on the opportunity to strengthen the accountability of the UN system for its gender mainstreaming responsibilities. It remains to be seen if the entity’s mandate and structure, which have been agreed yesterday, will be powerful enough to ensure it has a positive impact on women’s lives”.

“UN member states’ decision to involve civil society organizations and women’s organizations in particular, in the work of the new entity is promising. Issues of women’s rights, gender equality and development are far too complex for any organization to solve alone. Unless women’s rights advocates can bring the perspectives of women to the table, it is doubtful that the new entity will be successful.”

“Much will depend on the leadership of the new Under-Secretary-General who will soon be appointed to lead the new entity. Despite earlier promises by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the recruitment process for this post is happening behind closed doors and has left civil society completely in the dark. We call upon the Secretary General to make this process transparent as a matter of urgency.”

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Comments

10 Responses to “UN Women: the United Nations gets its act together on gender”
  1. Hw did we get into into a situation with 4 different divisions dealing with women? Every UN-institution is normally approved by all the member states in consensus. This means the overlap was willfully organised not once, but three times.
    If an issue is hot, it always seems more interesting to create a new institution than to improve the work of the existing institutions. Just eliminating the overlapping institutions seems not to be done. Even worse: donors keep funding them.

    Perhaps we could crowdsource an inventory of similar overlaps that could be eliminated?

  2. Agnes Otzelberger

    I was delighted to hear about UNGA unanimously voting for UN Women to be created. It sounds promising and will hopefully be as significant a step forward on global action on gender as it promises to be.

    However I am wondering if this name – UN Women – will help fostering the much-needed recognition of gender equality as an issue that is not just ‘a business by women for women’ but concerns us all – whether male, female, old or young?

  3. Crumudgeon

    I find the whole thing most frustrating. To start with, we have had UNIFEM for ages. How will this new agency improve on what UNIFEM did? Secondly, the very name “UN Women” defeats the whole Gender in Development paradigm and represents the 1950s “Women in Development” thinking. The only opportunity I see here is for the CSOs to ensure that this new agency is more responsive and accountable in terms of its systems, processes, products and goals and does not end up being another mammoth primarily acting as free employment source for otherwise unemployable bureaucrats from the North.

  4. Joanna Watson

    This has been a long time coming – and is very welcome – but the challenge will be turning rhetoric into reality … Will funding come through, given that financial allocations will only be voluntary? Will the UN’s ‘political space’ be opened up sufficiently for the impact and benefits of this new body to actually reach women in the poorest communities around the world? Will member states work to uphold CEDAW, rather than undermine it, as a result of UN Women? And will the name, ‘UN Women’, bring on board (or simply alienate and disenfranchise) the men who are so vital to ensuring that women’s rights are upheld (through changing their behaviour, laying down their power, etc)?

  5. Seble

    I think it is great that is set up but i hope the support for its effectiveness and delivery of its mandate will be supported by the UN. However i agree that it should think of a better name and also hope that it builds on what UNIFEM has done and fill the gap therein.

  6. Carmen

    Interesting information Duncan, but has there been any newer information on the possible candidate to head the UN WOMEN? Bachelet is currently working on social protection issues with the ILO and WHO. (Is this a way to get some UN profile) Some say she was apparently disappointed to not be offered to lead UNICEF.

    There has been, it seems, quite an unstransparent conversation going on regarding this decision. The question is whether internaitonal women’s groups calling for a specific name? Or if the UN and Northern donors have a favourite?

    Food for thought.

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