UN: General Assembly votes unanimously to launch new agency called UN Women

The Independent & GEAR

Some 65 years after it was founded, and after decades of reports on every species of sex discrimination and its wasteful effects, the United Nations has decided to set up a single, powerful body to promote equality for women around the world.

The General Assembly voted unanimously on Friday to launch a new agency called UN Women. It will begin its work in January, have a high-level leader, probably twice the $250m annual budget now allocated to gender issues, and will be tasked with challenging governments on women's plights and rights.

UN Women will press hard for women to have a more widespread and prominent role in politics, and also try to reduce some of the world's more glaring discriminations. These include lack of access to health and education, forced marriages, rape, female cicumcision, and trafficking. Diplomats at the Assembly greeted news of the new body with spontaneous applause as the decision was announced with a rap of its president's gavel. "This is truly a watershed day," said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. "Member states have created a much stronger voice for women and for gender equality at the global level. It will now be much more difficult for the world to ignore the challenges facing women and girls or to fail to take the necessary action."

And Christine McCafferty, a former Labour MP who chaired the Council of Europe's health and reproductive health and rights committee, last night said: "This finally puts women where they always should have been: at the very heart of development. Countries where women's rights are not at the heart of development are those that have developed the slowest. This new UN entity must work closely with the finance ministries of every ... country, so that everyone understands the huge economic benefits of investing in women."

Although the UN has in the last two decades gone some way to being less dominated by socially conservative men, progress has been fiftul. A 1995 agreement by 189 nations in Beijing to work towards equality put down a marker, but, in the words of UN deputy secretary-general Asha-Rose Migiro, "inequalities remain deeply entrenched in every society".

Women's issues were split between different UN agencies of varying effectiveness. Then, four years ago, a push for a UN body for women was launched as the Gear Campaign. Eventually numbering more than 300 groups, and led by the European Union, it agitated for a single, dedicated agency which would have a high-powered leader, a greatly increased budget and some real clout. This, with Friday's vote, they have now won, providing the practice matches the intent.

Harriet Harman, acting leader of the Labour Party, said yesterday: "Women are a new phenomenon in international politics and diplomacy, who can offer additional and different dimensions to conflict resolution, the economic agenda, democracy and development. UN Women is not just about protecting women victims from underdevelopment, it is about the UN helping to support and sustain women who have fought their way forward into governments across the world, and who have much to offer across every single UN agenda. The UN is a male-dominated institution which reflects patterns of the past; it has been left behind while the world changed. This new entity must be led by women if it is to bring change."

Marianne Mollmann, women's rights advocate at Human Rights Watch, said: "The creation of this agency is a testament to the resilience of women's rights activists ... So much of the promise of the new women's agency depends on finding a leader who can secure the funding and enhanced support that has been pledged."

Three names already floated to lead UN Women are the former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, Rwanda's Foreign Minister, Louise Mushikiwabo, and the UN special representative for children in armed conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy. It is believed that eight names have been submitted.

Khalida Salimi, co-founder of the Pakistani human rights NGO Sach, said: "It is a wonderful achievement that our demands for an under secretary-general – someone with real decision-making power in the UN – has been met. The patriarchal mindset of the UN has always tried to protect patriarchal interests. This is reflected by simple things, such as the men always talked about girls and power, whereas the women talked about peace and development. The new entity is an encouraging step forward, but it must take care not to reflect the same scenario. UN Women must expand outreach strategies and help to strengthen civil organisations that, for a long time, have stepped in because governments have failed to provide for people's basic needs."

Sunday, 4 July 2010

By Nina Lakhani and David Randall

Additional reporting by Pavan Amara.


1 July 2010

Contact: Charlotte Bunch, 732-642-5271 or cbunch[at]igc.org, Bani Dugal, 646-404-4210 or bdugal[at]bic.org, Rachel Harris, 301-535-9702 or rachel[at]wedo.org 

UN Women Born: Civil Society Celebrates Creation of Gender Equality Entity After Four Years of Advocacy

The Gender Equality Architecture Reform (GEAR) Campaign celebrates the United Nations General Assembly resolution, agreed to on 30 June and to be formally adopted by the General Assembly on Friday, 2 July, to establish “UN Women”—the new gender equality entity at the UN.   This move has been sought by women’s organizations and other civil society organizations around the world since the UN established a System-Wide Coherence Panel for UN Reform in 2006. 

Charlotte Bunch of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) at Rutgers University, a founding member of the GEAR Campaign, stated, “We have high expectations for this new agency to be a solid foundation for advancing the human rights of women as central to global policy efforts to reduce poverty and move toward greater realization of peace and democracy in the world.   The coalition of women’s groups and other social justice, human rights and development organizations that played a pivotal role in this effort will now turn its efforts toward ensuring that the new body has the human and financial resources necessary to succeed.”  

Particularly notable in the resolution are the paragraphs regarding the importance of civil society participation in the new entity.  The body must have increased operational presence at the country level including engagement with women’s groups and other civil society organizations invested in gender equality and the empowerment of women. 

The GEAR Campaign’s global, regional, and national networks will be contacting UN representatives at all levels to work with the transition process and the new Under Secretary-General, once appointed, to ensure they are connected with organizations on the ground ready to provide their            expertise and support.

As Patricia Licuanan of the Philippines, GEAR focal point in Asia and previous Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women at the time of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing says: “The new gender equality entity will assist countries in their efforts to carry out commitments made in Beijing. Working through the One UN system, we hope to see UN Women taking the lead in engendering the programs of the UN at the country level.”      

As the new entity is developed, GEAR supporters will continue to advocate for four major elements critical to its implementation:

· Meaningful, systematic and diverse civil society participation at all levels

· Strong, country-level operational capacity and universal coverage

· Ambitious funding with stable and predictable resources aimed at reaching $1 billion within a few years

· Strong leadership at the top with an Under Secretary-General who combines a global vision with gender equality expertise on the ground

“We know that this is only the beginning,” stated Rachel Harris of the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO).  “We must continue to ensure that we are building a United Nations that really works for all women!”


The GEAR Campaign is a network of over 300 women’s, human rights and social justice groups around the world that have been working for four years to gain UN Member State and UN Secretariat approval for creation of a larger more coherent coordinated UN agency that can advance further the UN’s   mandate of working for gender equality as a crucial component of development, human rights, humanitarian concerns, peace and security.

The new Gender Equality Entity to be headed by an Under-Secretary General, will consolidate the four existing UN bodies on women, increase operational capacity at the country level and have gain increased funding for work on women’s empowerment and advancement. The UN currently has four separate entities dedicated to women’s issues which will be combined in the new entity: the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW), and the Office of the Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI).  Bringing these together and coordinating their work more with gender mainstreaming throughout the UN system should the UN and governments to deliver more effectively on their obligations and many commitments to advance gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s human rights. 

For more information please go to the GEAR Campaign website - www.gearcampaign.org - or contact the GEAR Campaign at: gearcampaign[at]gmail.com

Co-Facilitator's Text 30 June.pdf612.16 KB