News / Africa

    UN Agency for Women the Culmination of Years of Effort

    How UN Women navigated bureaucratic roadblocks and went from far-fetched idea to nascent entity

    Jessica Stahl
    This is Part 2 of a 5-part series on UN Women
    Go to Part:  1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5


    “Diplomats erupted in rousing applause,” reported a United Nations press release when the resolution passed to create a new body dedicated to women’s rights and gender equality. After four years, two General Assembly resolutions and much negotiating, UN Women was finally becoming a reality.

    The U.N. Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, called UN Women for short, brings together the U.N.’s four units dedicated to women’s issues into one larger, higher-level entity.  Supporters hope the new agency, which became operational January 1, will bring a change in how the U.N. approaches gender issues.

    UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet visits Liberia to commemorate the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day.
    UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet visits Liberia to commemorate the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day.
    Creating a brand new agency marks a rare change for a bureaucratic system like the U.N.  And although the work of creating the new agency is far from done - funding goals haven’t been reached and priorities are still being formalized – the launch of UN Women is a victory for those who fought for it inside and outside the U.N.

    So what does it actually take to create a new U.N. agency? Just ask those who have been involved since the beginning.

    1) Get the Issue on the Agenda

    The U.N. embarked on a process of reform in 2005, appointing the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on U.N. System-wide Coherence to look at ways to streamline the U.N. and improve its effectiveness. Advocates for women’s rights saw it as an opportunity to advance proposals for strengthening the U.N.’s approach to gender issues.

    Timeline: The Creation of U.N. Women

    • June 2006: Office of the U.N. Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa puts out a report supporting the creation of a new agency for women’s issues
    • November 2006: U.N. high-level panel on reform includes the new agency in its recommendations
    • February 2008: The GEAR campaign is unveiled to demand women’s agency
    • September 2009: The General Assembly adopts a resolution supporting the creation of U.N. Women
    • July 2010: The General Assembly votes unanimously to create a new entity
    • September 2010: Michelle Bachelet is appointed head of U.N. Women
    • November 2010: Executive Board members are elected. Iran is denied a seat but other controversial states win seats
    • January 2011: U.N. Women becomes operational and lays out its 100-day plan
    • June 2011: U.N. Women’s strategic plan is set to be presented
    Activists discussed two possibilities – expanding the largest existing unit, UNIFEM, or creating a new agency that would merge the existing units. But the spirit of consolidation and reform encouraged them to lobby for the option of creating something new, according to Charlotte Bunch, the co-director of the GEAR campaign.

    The GEAR campaign is a coalition of NGOs created to support the creation of U.N. Women.  It grew out of the work NGOs did early on to lobby for the new agency.

    A push for reform also came from within the U.N. itself, from the office of the Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa. Senior Advisor Paula Donovan put out a report chastising the U.N. for its record on women’s rights and pushing for change.

    “Other members of the U.N. were offended and agitated as we expected them to be and wanted them to be,” said Stephen Lewis, who was the Special Envoy at the time and is now co-director of AIDS-Free World with Donovan. “We had no sympathy for their excuses and their apologies, because in fact women had not been well served over the decades and there was no use pretending otherwise.”

    Gender issues were not initially on the panel’s agenda, said Lewis, but when the final recommendations for reform came out, the creation of a new women’s agency was on the list. And the high-level panel seemed to agree with Lewis’ characterization of the existing system, calling it “incoherent, under-resourced and fragmented.”

    2) Win Support

    Once the recommendation was made, the next step was to get buy-in from the U.N. General Assembly. The process of getting on the reform panel’s agenda meant that the agency already had some high-level supporters among member governments, but many actors still needed convincing.

    Among the constituencies that had concerns were the pre-existing women’s units, said Lewis, which “didn’t want to be usurped in power and authority.”

    According to Bunch, opposition from member states in the General Assembly fell into two camps:

    “There were lots of questions from the developed countries, from Japan, from Germany, from the U.S. – the countries that pay the most dues to the United Nations – about the cost of doing this,” she said.

    United Nations General Assembly
    United Nations General Assembly
    “And then there were other countries that might be considered less friendly to women’s rights.  [They] were concerned that this would not become an agency that would go into their countries and tell them what to do,” she added.

    Lewis cited Egypt, Pakistan and Sudan as examples of countries that fell into this latter camp, but said eventually “they were simply overwhelmed by the determination of the rest of the U.N.”

    3) Get a General Assembly resolution

    Even winning the necessary support didn’t guarantee progress. From 2006 until 2009, U.N. representatives and members of civil society told the press there was no opposition to the idea from member states, but still it failed to get on the agenda.

    This was the result of political bargaining between states, according to Bunch. Governments were negotiating with each other on a whole range of U.N. reforms, including the women’s agency.

    “At a certain point we had this ironic situation where most governments said it was a good idea but because it was part of this package of reforms that were being negotiated together, it felt like the women’s agency was becoming a bargaining chip in a larger game,” said Bunch.

    The General Assembly did pass a resolution in 2009 that advocated creating UN Women, but the resolution failed to give it a mandate.

    Advocacy group Oxfam at the time called the failure “deplorable.”

    But Lewis said it’s all part of the process.

    “The way the U.N. works is that it always inevitably goes through the process of coming to a conclusion by lurching from point A to point B. It’s never a smooth road.”

    In July 2010, the General Assembly voted unanimously to create U.N. Women.

    4) Set it Up

    Since the resolution passed, UN Women has been working to bring the vision to fruition.

    Michelle Bachelet is greeted by young children at Monrovia's Roberts International Airport on her first visit to Liberia in her new position.
    Michelle Bachelet is greeted by young children at Monrovia's Roberts International Airport on her first visit to Liberia in her new position.
    Former Chilean President Michele Bachelet was appointed head of the new entity. Lewis said he is confident in her abilities to overcome the bureaucratic hurdles of melding four units into one body.

    U.N. Women also named its executive board, and although it has received criticism for the inclusion of states like Saudi Arabia and Congo, Bunch said she is not concerned that this will derail the agency’s progress.

    “The executive board is going to be inevitably a political representation of the governments of the world.  That’s what any board of any U.N. agency is,” she said. “So I think the important thing is that they are not allowed to stop anything from going forward.  And that really requires holding the executive board and the governments accountable to all the standards they’ve already set.”

    5) Prepare for the Future

    The real challenge going forward, according to both Bunch and Lewis, will be getting the necessary funding. The resolution funds UN Women at $500 million to $1 billion per year, but it hasn’t yet received nearly that commitment from member states.

    “The money is everything,” said Lewis. “So if Madame Bachelet is not able to get the money then UN Women will not work, but if she can get the money on the force of her own charismatic personality and the legitimacy of gender equality and women’s empowerment then this will be an agency to conjure with.”

    UN Women is currently finalizing its strategic plan, set to be released in June.

    Almost five years after the idea of a UN women’s agency was made a priority, it’s finally moving forward. It may seem like a long time to create one new agency, but Bunch and Lewis say the process has been comparatively fast.

    “We knew that this was a process that would not happen overnight, that if it only took three, four or five years it would be extraordinary and that’s just the way the U.N. works,” said Lewis.

    Even so, anyone hoping to follow these steps and create their own agency at the U.N. may be in for a long wait. He added, “I doubt there will be another agency created for another 50 years.”

    You May Like

    Russian-speaking Muslim Exiles Fear Possible Russia-Turkey Thaw

    Exiled from Russia as Islamic radicals and extremists, thousands found asylum in Turkey

    US Presidential Election Ends at Conventions for Territorial Citizens

    Citizens of US territories like Guam or Puerto Rico enjoy participation in US political process but are denied right to vote for president

    UN Syria Envoy: 'Devil Is in the Details' of Russian Aleppo Proposal

    UN uncertain about the possible humanitarian impact of Russian proposal to establish escape corridors in Aleppo

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Philadelphia Uses DNC Spotlight to Profile Historic Role in Founding of United Statesi
    X
    July 28, 2016 2:16 AM
    The slogan of the Democratic National Convention now underway in Philadelphia is “Let’s Make History Again” which recognizes the role the city played in the foundation of the United States in the 18th century. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, local institutions are opening their doors in an effort to capitalize on the convention spotlight to draw visitors, and to offer more than just a history lesson.
    Video

    Video Philadelphia Uses DNC Spotlight to Profile Historic Role in Founding of United States

    The slogan of the Democratic National Convention now underway in Philadelphia is “Let’s Make History Again” which recognizes the role the city played in the foundation of the United States in the 18th century. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, local institutions are opening their doors in an effort to capitalize on the convention spotlight to draw visitors, and to offer more than just a history lesson.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora