Both the normative and operative UN organisations are structured as bureaucracies. This sets the context for the implementation of gender equality policies, presenting obstacles as well as possibilities. By Torild Skard, pdf format. November 2009.
In 2006, the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on System-Wide Coherence was tasked to study the reform of the United Nations System. Civil society advocates pushed that GEAR (Gender Equality Architecture Reform Campaign) be part of UN reform. The GEAR Campaign is a global initiative of women’s human rights and social justice groups that proposes the creation of a stronger UN entity for women in order to significantly advance gender equality, the empowerment of women and women’s human rights in the work of the UN.
Among its recommendations are that this new gender architecture must have: (1) Combined strong normative (OSAGI and DAW) and operational (UNIFEM, INSTRAW) functions; (2) Expanded and stronger operational activities at the national level; (3) Leadership by an Under Secretary General; (4) Ambitious amount of funding, and (5) Accountability at national and international levels with meaningful involvement of civil society. The primary objective of the campaign is to convince national governments to support these civil society’s / women’s groups’ proposed initiatives in the deliberations of the UN General Assembly.
The GEAR Campaign has five (5) global focal points: Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL), Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN), Association of Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) and the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF).
The global focal points of the GEAR Campaign, together with others networks and organizations, endorse the following statements/petitions:
In this report we provide information about the different positions on UN reform by women’s networks and organisations around the world, UN official information, and several documents that contribute to analysis. This page is also open for those who are willing to send information they consider has not been included in this report.
Everywhere in the world, women are second-class citizens. The UN's Member States have been pledging to correct that injustice and achieve equality between men and women since 1948, when they first adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Today, 182 countries are party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, declaring that human rights and fundamental freedoms belong equally to women and men in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil and every other field. And yet, wherever one turns - including within the United Nations itself -- men hold power and advantage over women. Although that reality is now viewed as wrong and counter-productive, most modern-day institutions, governments, cultures and traditions are locked in a rut, and continue to reinforce male centrality and superiority. Women's marginal, lower status and unrealised potential punishes half the world's population, but weakens us all. (Excerpted from “A Reformed UN Needs a Full-Fledged Women’s Agency”, by Stephen Lewis, UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, February 25, 2006).
For over 80 years, the relationship between women and international organisations has barely existed in historical records and has been scarcely promoted by the media. Well before the Charter of the United Nations was approved in 1945, and already at the League of Nations, women fought and participated to include demands against discrimination, promoting the legal and social progress of women around the world. The international movement of women that took part in the creation of the United Nations – these “founding mothers” – should get the credit they deserve.
Previously, in 1933, the first international treaty on equality for women was discussed at the Seventh International Conference of American States, which was only signed by Cuba, Ecuador, Paraguay and Uruguay. By this treaty, all participating countries adopted the Convention on the Nationality of Women that entitled women to maintain their own nationality upon marriage to a foreigner. It was the first international instrument adopted in the world with regards to women’s rights. This Convention was decisive and acted as catalyst to make the League of Nations acknowledge the existence and legitimacy of women’s rights movements in the region.
Today, thanks to the women’s struggle and diplomacy at the global level over the decades, the international agenda includes many aims and policy proposals - which are consecrated in declarations, conventions and programmes for the progress of women - which go far beyond the existing laws and policies within most of the UN Member States.
In recent years, the UN reform has been an ongoing issue, until now mainly focused on Security Council reform. The latter is up till now the only aspect in the reform that has been appointed an ad-hoc advisory group to the General Assembly, the “open-ended working group” on Security Council reform, which has been holding meetings for the past ten years.
The different reform proposals and controversial policies attached to them reflect different views, expectations and evaluations on the nature of the problems experienced by the organisation. The different opinions that can be identified regarding UN reform can be divided into two main positions: the North and the South. This has sprung strong controversy since proposals regarding the UN reform also form part of the struggle for influence and control within the Organisation.
The Gender Equality Architecture of the United Nations website allows members of the site to interact with one another in discussion groups and also allows GEAR supporters to easily share and post campaigning ideas, country advocacy and other useful information.
At the NGO CSW Roundtable meeting on the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) review of the 15th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action women gathered to develop recommendations that reflected the needs and experiences of women in the region. One of the panels focused on the new United Nations gender equality entity. October 2009.
An international coalition of over 300 women's organisations and human rights groups, representing more than 50 countries, is lending its support to a proposal aimed at creating a strong new women's body at the United Nations. April 2009.
For the last two decades, DAWN has been engaged in generating a Southern feminist perspective on the global political and policy environment. Its aim in the Human Rights Council is to contribute to expanding the policy space for incorporating gender perspectives into the diverse and interrelated human development and human rights themes. September 2008.
For DAWN (Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era), a highly-placed gender entity in the United Nations whose principal function will be limited to acting as a watchdog for gender mainstreaming and which will have very limited capacity to undertake projects on its own will not close the existing gap between official rhetoric and action on gender equality and women’s empowerment. In the ongoing discussions, the location-position of women’s empowerment and gender equality is unclear, particularly because it is often couched in mainstreaming or cross-cutting language. The current conjuncture reflects an intensification of efforts to deepen harmonization and coherence between the various parts of international development cooperation on the one hand, and trade and financial liberalization on the other. Within these ongoing discussions, the location-position of women’s empowerment and gender equality is unclear, particularly because it is often couched in mainstreaming or cross-cutting language. August 2008.
Member States have moved forward the discussion around the United Nations Gender Equality Architecture (GEA) recommendations to improve UN implementation of commitments made with CEDAW, Beijing, resolution 1325 and others.
The Women's Working Group (including WEDO) has drafted policy recommendations for governments negotiating at CSW. The recommendations address the theme of financing for gender equality and women's empowerment. February 2008. (PDF document).
The U.N. still lacks an effective mechanism to deliver on many of the essential commitments made. It has several small under-resourced agencies focused exclusively on women’s issues and other larger agencies make critical contributions to women’s human rights and gender equality, but it is usually a small part of their mandate, and often receives low priority. The campaign for Gender Equality Architecture Reform therefore calls on member states of the UN, with the support of the women’s movement, to act now to create a stronger United Nations entity for women. January 2008.
The feminist articulations, networks and campaigns of Latin America and the Caribbean debated and put forward their position about the UN Reform and a possible new Women’s Agency. Among other things, they decided to maintain a vigilant articulation in relation to the standpoints of our governments in the debate on the UN reform and to broaden the democratic practices and institutionalism at regional, national and local levels. April 2007.
In May 2006, AsiaWomenNet released a comprehensive report aimed at having incidence on the September 2006 Session of the General Assembly, where the UN analyses the situation of women since the 1985 Nairobi Conference until today as well as their needs and proposals for change.
In July 2006, Caribbean women’s organisations and women’s rights advocates submitted a Statement before the High-Level Panel. In said statement, they endorse expressions by the G-77 and the statements that CWGL and WEDO presented to the High-Level Panel on July 2, 2006. pdt format.
In November 2006, the African Feminist Forum released a statement on a New UN Women’s Entity, pointing out that “a consolidated agency led by an Under Secretary-General with an ambitious country presence and substantially increased financial and human resources will enable the UN to deliver effectively its mandate for women’s rights, respond to the needs of African women at country level and governments to better address the rights of African women at national and local levels”. They also call upon Member States to adopt the Coherence Panel’s recommendations on women’s rights and refer to 4 items with regards to the possibility of the creation of a new Agency. pdf format.
In August 2006, the International Women's Tribune Centre and the Heinrich Böll Foundation published a book entitled "UN Reform: What’s in it for Women?" The publication features reflections, insights, and analysis by women from different regions specifically examining the impact of the UN reform process on women at the regional and national levels. It also presents different initiatives and proposals in ensuring women’s spaces within the UN as well as concrete recommendations on how to influence the UN reform process. August 2006 (pdf version).
In March 2006, women’s groups released an Open Letter to the Secretary-General and Member States deploring the lack of gender balance on the Panel and the absence of gender equality concerns in the initial mandate, both in terms of gender mainstreaming and women’s machineries within the UN system. Pdf format.
In May 2006, the organisations African Democracy Forum, Association for Women’s Rights in Development, BAOBAB for Women's Human Rights, Center for Women's Global Leadership, Baha'i International Community, Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era, International Center for Research on Women, International Planned Parenthood Federation-Western Hemisphere, International Women's Tribune Center, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Women Living Under Muslim Laws, Women's Environment and Development Organization released a briefing note where they also made proposals and posed several questions.
On 9 November 2006, the organisations CWGL and WEDO released a Statement signed by organisations and people from all regions with the aim of promoting proposals and recommendations among Member States at the 61st Session of the General Assembly and endorsing the Panel’s proposals. pdf format.
Feminist networks, articulations and campaigns of Latin America and the Caribbean will be meeting in March 2007 to discuss, strengthen and decide strategies and positions on a future new United Nations (UN) agency devoted to women. March 2007.
Since 1976 it has promoted women’s empowerment and job equality, mainly at the national level. It aims at ensuring the participation of women at all levels of development planning and its implementation. It serves as a catalyst, supporting measures that link women's issues and concerns to national, regional and global agendas.
It acts as a centre for the coordination and inclusion of gender-related issues within the UN system. It is also responsible for assisting the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Information is only provided in English language.
This office was created in 1997. It aims at promoting the strengthening and effective implementation of the Millennium Declaration, the Beijing Platform for Action (Fourth World Conference on Women) carried out in 1995 and the document of the General Assembly Beijing +5 Special Session.
It promotes applied research, facilitates information sharing and supports capacity building through networking mechanisms and partnerships with UN agencies, governments, academia and civil society. Available in Spanish, French and English.
Other UN entities and agencies include goals aimed at equality in their programmes, such as the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF), which focuses on sexual and reproductive health, or the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), among others.
This book covers more than eighty-five years of history between women and inter-governmental organizations. Unrecorded by history and untold by the media, the book recalls the success story of women and the League of Nations and describes history of women at the United Nations in the 30 years since the First UN World Conference on Women in Mexico City in 1975, and up to the ten-year review and appraisal of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action in 2005. The book outlines too the successes and failures of the current UN system in addressing gender equality and women’s rights, and puts forth several principles and characteristics that are critical to reforming the gender equality architecture. This interesting work is worth being mentioned, although it is only available in English language. Pdf format, 2007
In response to the request of Member States, the United Nations General Assembly convened informal consultations on gender to hear the opinion of state governments on Gender Equality Architecture within the United Nations. See also the Deputy Secretary General note and DAWN opinion. June 2008.
In 2007, the second term of UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, will come to an end. Women's rights activists and organizations sprang to their feet at this opportunity to nominate and select the first female UN Secretary General... but to no avail. With overwhelming support, Ki-Moon Ban from South Korea was selected as the next Secretary General. Thus, an important chance to strengthen women's role within the United Nations, thereby signaling the importance of gender equality worldwide has been lost.
After three years of extensive consultations, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution that takes the next step in the process that seeks to establish a new United Nations entity focused on the rights of women. September 2009.
In view of the on-going debate and negotiations to endow the United Nations with an effective architecture for gender equality and women's empowerment, a concept note has been prepared by the members of the Inter-Agency Gender Task Force. The note points out a number of desired goals that a strengthened architecture should aim at. (pdf) August 2007.
Ten ways for the U.N. to "deliver as one". Recommendations in brief from the Secretary-General’s High-llevel Panel on U.N. system-wide coherence in the areas of Development, Humanitarian Assistance and he Environment. 9 November 2006, pdf format.
On February 16 2006, the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, announced the appointment of a new High-level Panel on UN System-wide Coherence in the areas of development, humanitarian assistance and the environment. Cross-cutting gender and women’s rights issues had not been included among the Panel’s responsibilities until national and international women groups lobbied Kofi Annan. pdf format.
The U.N. Commission on the Status of Women concluded its 2008 annual meeting noting that "global commitments to achieve gender equality and women
empowerment have not yet been implemented." These commitments were agreed in 1995 in a high-level international conference in Beijing, and reaffirmed at every summit since then. March 2008.
The economic dimension is the next challenge towards global gender equity. More than half the women in the world live in countries that have made no progress towards gender equity in recent years. That is one of the findings of the Gender Equity Index (GEI) 2008 that Social Watch launched here as a contribution to the 52nd Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women that will end next March 8, the International Women’s Day. February 2008.
The results of the 2007 Social Watch Gender Equity Index (GEI) clearly demonstrate that a country’s level of wealth does not automatically determine its degree of equity. The United States, a high-income country, is one of the 10 countries that have experienced the greatest regression. Obviously, the key to gender equity lies not in a country’s economic power, but rather in its government’s political will.
"We have an agency for children, we have an agency for health, we have an agency for sexual and reproductive rights, we've got agencies for all kinds of things, but not for women who need one, and I think the time has come," Stephen Lewis told IPS correspondent. March 2009.
Speech delivered by Dr. Gita Sen within the framework of the international seminar "Women in motion for the right to education" that took place in June 2008 in Montevideo, Uruguay. The seminar was organized by the Gender and Education Office (GEO) of the International Council for Adult Education (ICAE) and counted with the participation of women leaders from around the world. July 2008.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations has said that violence against women is one of the gravest issues of our time. Well if that's the case, surely he can understand that speeches aren't enough. And if he truly believes what he says, then let him stake his tenure on it. Remarks by Stephen Lewis, Co-Director of AIDS-Free World. April 12, 2008.
Roberto Bissio, director of the Third World Institute, analyzes the United Nations procedure for the appointment of the new director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). He considers that this does not send a very good message on U.N. governance and the resolution of future appointments, because if these are based on contributions, then citizens of poor or small countries will have no chance in the international arena.
The idea conveyed when "tradition" is blamed for African women's economic predicament is that African beliefs and practices constitute part of an ancient, unchanging way of life, not easily amenable to change. The reality too often is that aid and development workers assume that the existence of "tradition" makes African women incapable of acting as authors of their own lives. What is considered "traditional" in African communities is often of relatively recent vintage and was colonially-generated. Foreign aid workers and African men are too eager to point to "tradition" when excluding women from development projects. It is important to note that the UN Commission on the Status of Women has declared its theme for 2008 as "Financing for gender equality and the empowerment of women". In February 2007 the Commission convened an informal expert panel to discuss how to move forward on this agenda. It is disheartening –but, unfortunately, not surprising- that no African women were amongst the list of panelists; indeed the only African –the Minister of Finance for Zambia– was also the only man. January 2008.
In conference on UN reform and human rights, Stephen Lewis, the UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa criticized how the multilateral system is disgorging a high-level panel of fifteen people to look at the re-design of all those areas of the United Nations system which so significantly address the lives of women, but only three members of the panel are women. March 2006.
Remarks by Stephen Lewis, Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa. He refers to the need for an international agency aimed at women, based on existing evidence across the spectrum of gender inequality. “The great dreams of the international conferences in Vienna, Cairo and Beijing have never come to pass. It matters not the issue: whether it's levels of sexual violence, or HIV/AIDS, or maternal mortality, or armed conflict, or economic empowerment, or parliamentary representation, women are in terrible trouble. And things are getting no better”. July 2, 2006.
Foreign Ministers of the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries and the G-77 met in Malaysia in June 2007. Ministers vowed to raise the voice of the South in international relations, including the United Nations reform process. By Martin Kohr. Tuesday, June 20, 2006.