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

July 9, 2010

     By Duncan Green     

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.”

July 9, 2010
Duncan Green