The UN reform... and what about women?

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. [see more]
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.
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The reponse of organised women

GEAR UP - Gender Equality Architecture Reform

The new gender entity in the United Nations: the sum is larger than the parts

Global coalition backs new U.N. gender body (IPS News)

Calling on the United Nations Human Rights council (UNHRC): Integration of a gender perspective throughout its work (sou (DAWN Informs)

Network questions global reform and review processes on gender equality (DAWN)

GEAR Campaign Update June 2008 (WIDE)

Civil society campaign (AWID)

Civil society recommendations for the UN commission on the status of women (WEDO)

United Nations advocacy (CWGL)

U.N. Reform and the 52nd. Session of the Commission on the Status of Women

Feminists in Latin America and the Caribbean debated: "We want more" (REPEM)

The fourth pillar: Women press for real changes in the UN (Women's Human Rights net)

Statement of Caribbean Women’s Organisations

Statement of the African Feminist Forum

UN reform: what's in it for women? (International Women's Tribune Centre)

Open Letter on Women and UN Reform to the Secretary-General

Briefing note on women’s rights and the Coherence Panel in the UN reform process (Global Policy)

Statement on Reforming the Gender Equality Architecture of the United Nations

A new U.N. agency? Latin American feminists hold debate

UN women’s entities

United Nations Development Fund for Women - UNIFEM

Division for the Advancement of Women - DAW

Office of the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women - OSAGI

United Nations International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women - INSTRAW

Other UN programmes and specialised entities

Women’s backgrounds in the UN

The unfinished story of women and the United Nations

Information resources

United Nations Gender Equality Architecture, member states and women

Information on AWID’s website

U.N. and U.N. Reform (TWN)

UN Reform from a Gender Perspective (GLOW)

United Nations information

The U.N. General Assembly adopts resolution to establish a new women’s entity (NGLS)

A concept note on UN gender architecture (United Nations)

Delivering as One

High-Level Panel for UN System-wide Coherence

Fragment referred to gender – “Gender equality and women’s empowerment" – in the document of the High-Level Panel

Note by the UN Secretary-General

The UN reform

Global inequity

Women, commitments and impotence (Social Watch)

Gender Equity Index (GEI) 2008 (Social Watch)

2007 Gender Equity Index

How have women measured their success?

Analysis and research

women in the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO)

Gender in the Malestream

Time has come for a New U.N. women's agency (IPS News)

Advocacy spaces for the women's movement: A speech by Gita Sen (Choike)

Growing clamour against rape and sexual violence in the Congo (AIDS-Free World)

How much does an office cost at the United Nations? (Third World Institute)

Let the women speak! and listen (Pambazuka)

Gender equality forgotten in UN reform process (WHRNet)

Remarks to a High-Level Panel on UN Reform (AWID)

South fights for a fairer UN system (TWN)

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