This year, a new international agency came into being that’s bolstering the fight to for global gender equality, UN Women. It brings under one roof several other UN bodies that for decades had focused on improving living standards, legal rights and health care, including the United Nations Development Fund for Women, the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women, and the Division for the Advancement of Women.
Among the new agency’s goals: helping inter-governmental bodies like the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women to formulate policies and global standards; and helping member states, as well as the UN itself, to implement them.
UN Women’s new executive director, Michelle Bachelet, the former president of Chile, has laid out the agency’s top priorities. Among them is what Lyric Thompson, a policy analyst for Women for Women International, calls a “women, peace and security” agenda. Included in it is ending gender violence; improving economic empowerment, and expanding the presence and participation of women in, leadership and in politics.
Thompson says in the developing world, part of the agenda centers on women in conflict, in peace negotiations and in post-conflict reconstruction:
“Women know peace is not just the end of conflict, but the resurgence of life, “ she said, adding the questions for women and for UN policy makers includes “how do we keep the kids in school, access medical services for families who are sick and the men and women who are injured ? How do we do these sorts of things that are not in the minds of warlords penning peace agreements? We’ve never had chief female UN led negotiator in any of these peace talks. That is something that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is committed to doing.”
Thompson expects UN Women to build on advancements made in reaching women caught in military conflict, where much of the violence against them has taken place.
“We have our first team of all female peacekeepers in Liberia from India,” explains Thompson. “Bangladesh has also had all female peacekeeping teams that it has deployed…and there is a commitment within the UN system to ensure there are more.
More training and resources are also being made available to women to help rebuild after conflict “under the theory,” she said, “ that because women re-invest most resources in women and the community (as compared to 30 percent of resources invested by men), that that is surest way to achieve community level development.”
Bachelet says the UN women will also act, she says, as a “global broker of knowledge and experience.”
Included in that is helping intergovernmental bodies like the UN Commission on the Status of Women to create standards and norms;
Thompson says UNIFEM and other agencies that came before UN Women were the hub of specialized resources, like how to implement a water program that anticipates the needs of women and girls. She says that’s the kind of technical support UN WOMEN can provide to ensure that the UN members states and UN system itself meet their commitments to gender equality.