Global Policy Forum

EU Faults UN for Slowdown in Gender Empowerment


By Thalif Deen

February 4, 2010

Against the backdrop of continued widespread gender discrimination worldwide, the European Union (EU) has urged Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to "urgently" speed up the creation of the proposed new U.N. agency for women.

The proposal for a "gender entity" was recommended by a high-level panel back in 2006 and approved by the 192-member General Assembly last year.

But for the last four years, the proposal has been kicked around in the corridors of the United Nations, short of implementation.

"If this decision is further delayed, the current gender agencies will be kept in limbo and unable to deliver for women around the world," warned Ambassador Juan Antonio Yanez-Barnuevo of Spain, current chair of the 27-member EU.

The proposal calls for the consolidation of four existing U.N. "gender agencies" - the U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues (OSAGI), the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) and the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW) - under a single new U.N. body to be headed by an under-secretary-general.

The secretary-general has proposed that UNIFEM and INSTRAW be "abolished" and their existing mandates and assets be transferred, along with that of OSAGI and DAW, into the new "composite entity".

Addressing delegates Thursday, Ambassador Yanez-Barnuevo said the EU was calling on the secretary-general "to urgently advance" the process of appointing the new under-secretary-general of the composite entity.

The new U.N. official, he said, should be in "a position to lead the organisation through the changes required to have a strong U.N. entity focused on advancing gender equality and the empowerment of women."

According to U.N. sources, the secretary-general is likely to name a woman USG to head the gender entity - possibly before the next meeting of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), scheduled to take place Mar. 1-12.

If the General Assembly endorses Ban's proposal, the new entity will have an annual budget of about 500 million dollars: 125 million dollars for basic support capacity at the country, regional and headquarters level, and 375 million dollars for country-specific U.N. programmatic support.

In contrast, the 2008 funding available to the four existing gender entities was 6.2 million dollars from the regular budget of the United Nations and 218.5 million dollars from voluntary contributions.

But the new figure of 500 million dollars still falls far short of a demand made by an international coalition of women's organisations campaigning under the banner Gender Equality Architecture Reform Campaign (GEAR) which has called for a start-up of 1.0 billion dollars.

In a 25-page report released here, Ban has spelled out in greater detail the new infrastructure, its functions, composition of staff and sources of funding.

The composite entity will be a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly and report to the Assembly through the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

The Commission on the Status of Women will play a crucial role in guiding its work and an executive board will oversee its operational activities.

The composite entity will also be the centre of the gender equality architecture of the United Nations system, "which comprises the capacities of the whole system working for gender equality and women's empowerment."

Making a strong case for the new body, the report says that gender inequalities remain deeply entrenched in every society.

Women lack access to decent work and continue to face occupational segregation and gender wage gaps.

In too many cases, the report points out, they are denied access to basic education and health care.

"Some 500,000 women and girls still die every year in pregnancy and childbirth," the report says.

And women in all parts of the world are not able to exercise their human rights and they suffer violence and discrimination.

Women are underrepresented in political processes and decision-making in all areas.

"Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls are inextricably linked to poverty eradication and human development, and the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals," it says.

These goals, including poverty and hunger reduction, will not be met by the 2015 deadline unless women and girls are empowered.

In his report, the secretary-general also says that "grounded in the vision of equality enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations", the composite entity will work for the elimination of discrimination against women and girls; the empowerment of women; and the achievement of equality between women and men as partners and beneficiaries of development, human rights, humanitarian action and peace and security.

Placing women's rights at the centre of all its efforts, it will also "lead and coordinate United Nations system efforts to ensure that commitments on gender equality and gender mainstreaming translate into action throughout the world".

Additionally, it will provide strong and coherent leadership in support of member states' priorities and efforts, building effective partnerships with civil society and other relevant actors.

The report also says that UNIFEM currently has a presence in more than 80 countries, "where it responds to the greatest needs".

In the first phase of the establishment of the composite entity, Ban says, emphasis could be placed on maintaining a minimum basic presence in those 80 countries, as well as deploying teams in the six United Nations regional operational support centres to provide core services in countries where the composite entity does not have a physical presence.

A total of approximately 760 staff would be needed for the start-up capacity in those 80 countries, including 600 national staff, compared with the current total of 196 field staff.


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