At a Glance: UN Milestones
Women have fought to defend their rights within the global decision-making body of United Nations since its inception. Here are some milestones of the movement for equality within the UN:
Commission on the Status of Women created; independent entity in 1947.
Declaration on the Protection of Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflict adopted.
First UN Conference on Women in Mexico City; annual meeting as of 1987.
UN Development for Women is created; becomes UNIFEM in 1984.
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW) adopted.
UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women appointed.
UN Security Council Resolution 1325 mandates gender lens on conflicts.
High level panel on coherence named to study gender reform of UN.
UN approves creation of UN Women as new agency.
Source: Charlotte Bunch, GEAR; UN.
Looking Ahead: The First 100 Days
• Read Michelle Bachelet's 100 day action plan for UN Women.
• Explore recommendations for UN Women from the World Pulse community
• Visit UN Women to stay up to date on the agency's progress
A New Era Begins at UN Women
Once sidelined, women are now gaining momentum within the UN system. UN Women opened its doors in January—and with it the doors to women's leadership at the global level.
Some might call it Extreme Makeover. The UN episode. On January 1, 2011 a new uber-agency for women officially opened for business at the United Nations—UN Women—with an ambitious agenda to not only reform the “old boys club” of the UN, but to push national governments to be more responsive to the needs and voices of the world's women. Led by Michelle Bachelet, Chile's dynamic ex-president, UN Women has a smart, well-respected leader, a more powerful position within the UN hierarchy, and a new hybrid structure that unites the talents of four UN women's agencies into one. It's no wonder feminists are cheering.
As UN Women takes its first steps, World Pulse set out to ask several feminist leaders and longtime advocates for UN reform what they feel about this historic step—and the agency's promise. What are their own hopes and dreams for UN Women? Do they believe a gender revolution is truly afoot—or could be? And given how long it's taken the feminist movement to get this far in the door, what kind of change is realistic to expect in these early days?
“We are thrilled that five years' worth of tenacious policy advocacy culminated in a new agency,” say Paula Donovan and Stephen Lewis of AIDS-Free World, both ex-UN agency directors who pushed hard for UN Women to be born. “On the surface, it may seem that it took the UN an inordinately long time to move from acknowledging that it was operating in the dark ages, to passing a resolution to put the system on the right track. But when measured in UN-time, the transformation occurred at lightning speed.”
Add the duo, “While the amalgamation of the UN's four existing women-focused entities into one may seem cosmetic, we're confident that, in retrospect, 2011 will be seen as the start of a new era for the UN.” At the one-month mark, they report: “We're entirely optimistic about the future, and not at all frustrated. There's nowhere to go but forward.”
Such words represent a positive shift in attitude from what Lewis—arguably the world's most vocal male feminist—long-branded the UN's “abysmal failure” on women's issues.
“I'm definitely excited because I think there's a real possibility for momentum now on the question of making a difference on gender equality for the institution as a whole,” concurs Kavita Ramdas, Senior Advisor and the former CEO of the Global Fund for Women. “People are always cynical of the UN and doubt it can achieve much. But the UN is as close to a cross-national effort—something really seeking to be an example for people cooperating together across boundaries and countries—as we have. It's not perfect, but it's the outcome of real, genuine movements across the globe, so I see a lot of potential.”
A Long Road
The move to seriously pink the UN didn't start yesterday and won't end with UN Women. It dates back to 1948, three years after the UN's creation, when a few bold women managed to insert the critical words 'and women' after the phrase 'equality for men' in seminal charter documents. From then on, the fight to make women's voices more visible and powerful at the UN has never stopped. In the 1970s, as the women's movement gained power, UNIFEM (the United Nations Development Fund for Women) was born as a small, independent agency to fund women's projects under the umbrella of the larger United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). A slew of women-focused agencies later followed—each helping to document, set standards, implement, and monitor progress on global women's issues. But their impact was sharply limited by small budgets and staffs—reflecting an ongoing deep lack of commitment to women's issues. . . .