UN Creates Agency for Women

From http://www.one.org/blog/2009/09/24/un-takes-new-step-to-tackle-global-womens-issues/, 9/25/09:

UN Takes Step to Tackle Global Women’s Issues

In case you missed it, exciting news came out of the opening session of the UN General Assembly last Monday: after nearly three years of negotiations, member states voted to create a UN agency for women.

The new agency’s mandate will be to “promote the rights and well-being of women worldwide and to work towards gender equality.” Currently, the UN’s gender programs are scattered across various agencies through four different programs: UNIFEM, the Division for the Advancement of Women, the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the UN International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (UN-INSTRAW). The new entity will be headed by an Under-Secretary General who reports to the UN’s Secretary General, on par with agencies like UNICEF and UNHCR.

Groups that have been campaigning for the body (such as Gender Equality Architecture Reform, or GEAR) hope that a composite, super-agency will not only raise the prominence of gender issues on the global agenda but also boost funding for women through the UN, which they say has been low under the current structure. GEAR and others are calling for $1 billion in start-up money for the new agency (for comparison, the 2007 budgets for UNICEF and UNIFEM in 2007 were $129 million and $3 billion, respectively).

There is no doubt that the step is a good one for the world’s women, especially those living in the world’s poorest countries. For over two decades, development experts have been saying that countries who invest in education, health and economic opportunities for their women see greater results in poverty reduction and development across the board. Yet while some progress has been made in improving the lives of women around the globe (through expanded access to microfinance and treatment to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS, for example), the fact remains that women are still bearing the brunt of extreme poverty and disease and in many countries, are systematically excluded from the economy and politics and living in fear of violence and rape.

The UN decision follows other signs that momentum is building for a renewed effort to tackle global women’s issues. Earlier this year, President Barack Obama created the first ever Office on Global Women’s Issues in his Administration (with veteran women’s advocate Melanne Verveer at its head) and in Congress, Senator Barbara Boxer now chairs a subcommittee with global women’s issues in its purview. The need to invest in women was also a recurring key theme of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent trip to Africa, and this past month both the Clinton Global Initiative and the New York Times have highlighted the topic in a major way.

So it seems that everyone- and now the UN- agrees: women are key to a healthier, more prosperous and stable world. The challenge is now to translate this growing consensus into action. At the UN, details on the new agency will be ironed out over the coming months after Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon comes up with a proposal to member states on the body’s mission, funding, structure and oversight. The first indication of how much muscle the new agency will have. Meanwhile, here in the U.S., the FY011 budget should be a good sign of where the Administration’s priorities lie and how they match with Congress. We’ll be watching these developments at ONE closely, so stay tuned here for news from both fronts.

-Nora Coghlan

UN Women



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