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
In 2006, the GEAR campaign (Gender Equality Architecture Reform) was created to push for major reform at the UN. That year, a UN coherence panel charged with consolidating and strengthening the gender equality architecture in the UN included a key recommendation of "ambitiously funding the new organization." Charlotte Bunch, feminist leader and co-facilitator of the GEAR campaign, says "exposing the gap between rhetoric and reality of what the UN was doing [for women]" helped convince the men on the coherence panel to back a serious reform." We were able to get to people who were used to thinking in millions of dollars and who were surprised to see how little was going to women," she explains.
But words didn't amount to action. Three years later, Bunch reported that women occupied less than 30% of high-level professional posts at the UN—a figure that drops as one rises in position—despite a UN internal mandate of a 50/50 male-female ratio by the year 2000. The European GEAR focal point also found that funding for the four women's units that today make up UN Women was roughly $221 million—less than 1% of the $27 billion that the UN and all its agencies were then spending. By comparison, UNICEF had a budget of over $3 billion.
Today, UN Women begins its work with more money: $77 million in new funding has been committed. That's still $200 million short of a minimum $500 million initial operating budget—and way below the hoped-for $1 billion. “UN Women needs money—period,” stresses Ritu Sharma, Co-Founder and President of Women Thrive Worldwide, pointing out an immediate line in the sand. “We have excellent leadership. President Bachelet is the best; she is smart, focused, and powerful. But she can't do anything without money. The planned US contribution to UN Women is less than $20 million. That's pathetic. Yes, budgets are tight everywhere in the world, including in the US. But this is not a moment to let women down.”
“Everything hinges on funding,” assert Donovan and Lewis. “Now that member states have taken the first steps to revolutionize the UN—and it's time to put their money where their mouths are—they can't backslide. They can't revert to the status quo, pretending that they meant for UN Women simply to be a sum of its parts—a very slightly enhanced version of the 'gender architecture' that has not been serving the world's women or the UN up to now.”
Choosing Among Battles
The budget battle is one of a number of looming challenges facing UN Women. One of its first tasks is to smoothly integrate and coordinate the work of four separate agencies that—like all UN agencies—compete for turf and funds. While gender advocates within the UN agreed on the UN's failures, some resisted the call for a new umbrella agency, fearful of losing their power or jobs.
The new hybrid architecture of the agency addresses its need to do multiple things at once: support women-focused progams like those UNIFEM has long supported, set policy standards, and monitor implementation. This all falls under the broad concept of gender mainstreaming: a cross-cutting, integrative process that applies a gender rights lens to institutional policy and programs.
Kavita Ramdas says that UN Women must define a new role and agenda at the UN—taking gender demands into new spheres. Up to now, she feels, the creation of women's agencies has somewhat siloed them—and allowed other agencies off the hook for gender reform. UN Women should continue building upon the bricks put in place by UNIFEM and its sister agencies to support women's programs, but it needs to redefine the problems. “It's not, 'Oh, here is your money to fund a few nice women's projects,'” she says. UN Women, especially with powerhouse Bachelet in charge, “has the chance to engage in a different way.”
She points to sexual violence as an example. “I think one of the things the women's movement is trying to show are the deep links of sexual violence to structures of militarism and violence institutionally, on a wide society level, and what is directed against women.” She wants UN Women to “sit in on Security Council decisions on war and peace. It's very important for agencies to take part in deliberations when you are negotiating peace settlements.” Whenever there are major critical political questions or crises like Sudan, nuclear stand-down in North or South Korea”—she ticks off examples—“this agency is at the table. That is a very different role for the agency.” . . .