Women with Disabilities

More Powerful UN Gender Equality Entity finally on the Way

The United Nations General Assembly has finally mandated the establishment of a new gender equality entity. What does this mean?

By Kathambi Kinoti

The United Nations has had a tremendous impact on the advancement of womenโ€™s rights and gender equality. It has been an important norm-setting space where instruments such as CEDAW and the Beijing Platform for Action have come into being. During its three world conferences for women between 1975 and 1985, it provided opportunities for womenโ€™s rights advocates to debate, analyse and expand the boundaries of how womenโ€™s rights have been conceptualised. It has provided a forum for the critical assessment of how states are doing in ensuring equal rights for their female citizens, as well as space for civil society organisations to challenge their governments on their commitments and actions. In different countries UNIFEM and as gender focal points in other UN agencies have made big contributions to securing womenโ€™s rights, promoting development, and cultivating peace and security.

The problem with the UN

Despite the positive role that the various entities within the UN have played, the organisation has not realised its full potential to positively impact the women of the world. Its work has been fragmented by being distributed among four bodies: The Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the United Nations Institute for Reseach and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women and the Office of the Special Advisor on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women.

The four womenโ€™s bodies are poorly funded compared to other bodies like UNICEF and UNDP and they have a relatively low stature within the UN. Prof. Charlotte Bunch is Founding Director of the Center for Womenโ€™s Global Leadership (CWGL). She says โ€œCurrently the representatives of womenโ€™s rights are not usually present when important decisions are made, and too often the gender focal points in other parts of the UN are operating at a low level with few resources.โ€

On September 14, 2009 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution for the establishment of a new gender equality entity which will be headed by an Under-Secretary General directly reporting to the Secretary General. This is good news for womenโ€™s rights. Bunch says that the resolution was welcome because it marked the beginning of establishment of a new entity based on the composite model that brings together the operational activities in the field and with the global policy making function.

CWGL belongs to a coalition of organisations campaigning for reform in the UN. Bunch says that the seeds of the three year old Gender Equality Architecture Reform (GEAR) campaign emerged in New York during the Commission on the Status of Women, when women demanded that the issue of a new gender equality body be added to the ongoing UN reform agenda. They ensured that it was placed before the Secretary Generalโ€™s High Level Panel on UN Coherence. GEAR demonstrated to the Panel and member states why a new gender equality entity was necessary. They went on to propose different models for a new entity.

Intense lobbying and advocacy

During this time, GEAR formed an international working group of regional and international focal points. They held several international strategy meetings in New York, coinciding with the meetings on the Commission on the Status of Women in March every year. They formed a New York-based lobbying group to advocate with UN member states since negotiations took place in the General Assembly.

Regional focal points organised forums at regional level to promote UN architectural reform. Nasiola Likimani is the Advocacy Officer of FEMNET an African womenโ€™s communications and development network, and GEARโ€™s regional focal point for Africa. She says that the role of her organisation within the GEAR campaign was to mobilise womenโ€™s organisations in support of the proposed new entity, to lobby African governments at national level and at the UN, and to popularise and disseminate information on the campaign to create a groundswell of support for the new entity as it was envisaged by womenโ€™s rights advocates.

Next steps

Although the General Assemblyโ€™s resolution was welcome, Bunch says: โ€œWe had hoped for a more detailed resolution that more explicitly asked the Secretary General of the UN to appoint an Under Secretary General immediately to begin work on the transitional process, and who would resolve outstanding political questions like how the new body would be funded and governed.โ€

Womenโ€™s rights advocates are alive to the fact that there are still significant challenges to be addressed. โ€œBy consolidating the existing UN womenโ€™s units into one organizsation and putting it at a higher level, the hope is that the work will be stronger, utilise resources more effectively, and attract considerabley more resources for this work,โ€ says Bunch. โ€œThis is alsoe the biggest challenge. TO succeed in elevating work on womenโ€™s rights throughout the UN, the entity must have more money and be able to coordinate what is done on womenโ€™s rights and gender mainstreaming in other parts of the UN more strategically.โ€ Another challenge is the political environment of the UN, where Bunch says that certain womenโ€™s rights issues are controversial and so it is important for the terrain to be navigated in such a way that fundamental issues obstructing womenโ€™s progress can be addressed.

Likimani says that the GEAR campaign is not over and civil society is now advocating for an Under Secretary General for the new gender equality entity to be appointed, who will lead the process of constituting the new entity, enabling it to be prioritised and timely. She says that GEAR will continue to advocate for civil society to be represented on the Executive Board of the new entity. Bunch emphasises the need to set out the budget for the new entity, as well as to spell out its structure and functions. โ€œWe need to keep this process moving,โ€ she says. โ€œAnd pressure the UN and governments to show women that they are serious about the entity and the fuding needed for it when they gather in New York in 2010 for the 15th anniversary of the Beijing World Conference on women.โ€

Source : The Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID).

By: The Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID).
When: 7/2/2014

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