A Powerful United Nations Women's Agency - Will the UN deliver?
Posted on: Monday, November 9, 2009
By Charlotte Bunch, member of MADRE's Network of Experts.
After three years of debate, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on September 14th that will lead to the creation of a stronger unified women's rights and gender equality entity led by an Under Secretary General. It will combine the four existing women's units at the UN: the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) the Office of the Secretary General's Special Adviser on Gender Issues (OSAGI) the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW).
The vision for this new body is for it to be much more than just a combination of what exists now. The goal is to have a powerful agency with the heft of UNICEF that can raise the global profile of women's rights and escalate efforts to realize them locally, both through strategic programming on the ground and by driving forward gender mainstreaming in the rest of the UN's work in areas from development and health, to human rights, peace and security. As the 15th anniversary of the UN's Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing+15) approaches with many of its promises still unfulfilled, advocates are demanding that progress on forming the agency be visible by the time of the its review by the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York in March, 2010.
Advocacy by civil society for this new agency began in 2006, when women's rights organizations began questioning how UN reform processes would impact gender equality issues. They called upon former Secretary General Kofi Annan's high level panel on system wide coherence which was looking at UN development and humanitarian work on the ground, to address the structural inadequacies and fragmentation of UN work on women's rights. After hearing from governments and women around the world, the panel recommended consolidating and strengthening the gender equality architecture of the UN.
Women's rights and civil society organizations have been working for the creation of a new entity primarily through the Gender Equality Architecture Reform Campaign (GEAR), a coalition of over 300 organizations in 80 countries worldwide, with global and regional focal points. A number of structural options have been discussed as models for the new UN agency, and the prevailing consensus is now to create a composite, or hybrid, entity that explicitly merges country level operations with global policy making and monitoring functions that are often separated in UN structures.
In arguing for this model, supporters have campaigned for the new agency to have substantial resources (both human and financial), high-level leadership and an extensive field presence, in order to steer the gender equality and women's empowerment agenda and effectively deliver results for women on the ground.
A key demand of the GEAR Campaign now is that Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, initiates a transparent global search process in the next three months for the new Under Secretary General position, in consultation with member states and civil society. The Campaign has developed criteria for the post that call for the appointment of a strong leader with significant stature, competence, credibility and experience in gender equality and women's human rights, including work at the country level, as well as a track record in management and fundraising.
Together with finding the right leadership, a key challenge is getting the UN, member states, and other funders to commit to providing the robust and stable resources needed for this effort to succeed. Currently, UNICEF has a budget of about $3 billion annually while the four women's units combined only muster some $221 million - less than 1% of the $27 billion that the UN and all its agencies currently spend per year. An early budget of at least $1 billion is seen as crucial to the success of the new agency; the expansion of an effective country level operation to address the situation of women globally must come from core funding (as opposed to funding that is project specific) to ensure that the agency can work with a high degree of predictability.
This new agency is the result of the campaigning work of civil society - led by women's groups working with human rights and development organizations. In order to deliver for women everywhere, there must be systematic and meaningful participation of civil society representatives in the governance structure as well as in the operations of the new women's agency. It is critical to tap into this expertise, and the Campaign has proposed the creation of Civil Society Advisory bodies at global, regional and national levels, as well as development a mechanism for on-going input from NGOs into the governance of the body.
The UN has been an important arena in women's pursuit of equality, justice and human rights over the past 35 years since the first UN International Women's Year in 1975. The UN has provided a venue for standard setting around gender equality and the human rights of women from the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) to the recent gains on issues of women and peace-keeping in the Security Council. Progress globally has repercussions nationally, especially in the arena of legal changes around women's rights over the past two decades. The challenge now is how to implement these standards and goals in the everyday lives of women and girls.
How effectively the UN and governments move forward on the creation of a powerful women's agency will indicate much about how far they are willing to go toward fulfilling their commitments and promises to women.
This is the first in a series of articles by Charlotte Bunch on how the reform of the UN to create a powerful women's agency is progressing.
With assistance from Margot Baruch
Archives"Press Room" Home October 2014 September 2014 August 2014 July 2014 June 2014 May 2014 April 2014 March 2014 February 2014 January 2014 December 2013 November 2013 October 2013 September 2013 August 2013 July 2013 June 2013 May 2013 April 2013 March 2013 February 2013 January 2013 December 2012 November 2012 October 2012 September 2012 August 2012 July 2012 June 2012 May 2012 April 2012 March 2012 February 2012 January 2012 December 2011 November 2011 October 2011 September 2011 August 2011 July 2011 June 2011 May 2011 April 2011 March 2011 February 2011 January 2011 December 2010 November 2010 October 2010 September 2010 August 2010 July 2010 June 2010 May 2010 April 2010 March 2010 February 2010 January 2010 December 2009 November 2009 October 2009 September 2009 August 2009 July 2009 June 2009 May 2009 April 2009 March 2009 February 2009 January 2009 December 2008 November 2008 October 2008 September 2008 August 2008 July 2008 June 2008 May 2008 April 2008 March 2008 February 2008 January 2008 December 2007 November 2007 October 2007 September 2007 August 2007 June 2007 May 2007 April 2007 March 2007 February 2007 January 2007 December 2006 November 2006 October 2006 September 2006 July 2006 June 2006 April 2006 March 2006 January 2006 December 2005 November 2005 September 2005 August 2005 July 2005 April 2005 March 2005 November 2004 October 2004 April 2004 March 2004 January 2004 December 2003 October 2003 September 2003 June 2003 April 2003 January 2003 September 2002 June 2002 January 2002 November 2001 October 2001 September 2001 August 2001 January 2001
MADRE & Our Partners Make News
Forbidden Talk - Prostitution in the Middle East (Levant TV, October 7, 2014)
Women's Organizations Fighting Against Gender-Based Violence in Iraq (Girls' Globe, October 1, 2014)
We all know about jihadists, but what about those waging an 'anti-jihad'? (Reuter, October 1, 2014)
Breaking the gridlock of climate change negotiations: learning from allies (openDemocracy, September 29, 2014)
Arab and Jewish midwives find a common language (Haaretz, September 12, 2014)