Global Policy Forum

Global Coalition Backs New UN Gender Body


By Thalif Deen

March 30, 2009

An international coalition of over 300 women's organisations and human rights groups, representing more than 50 countries, is lending its support to a proposal aimed at creating a strong new women's body at the United Nations.

The coalition, which has been running a longstanding global campaign called Gender Equality Architecture Reform (GEAR), has opted for a "hybrid" body: a mix of a U.N department and a U.N. agency, combining the best of both worlds. A paper by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, spelling out four options to strengthen the U.N.'s gender architecture, will go before the current sessions of the 192-member General Assembly for a final decision before September this year.

Charlotte Bunch, executive director of the Centre for Women's Global Leadership at Rutgers University, told IPS the majority of the members of the General Assembly, and its President Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann, not only support the creation of a new, stronger entity for women, but also have voiced a preference for a composite body. The first option, as proposed in the paper, is to maintain the status quo, namely the U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues, the U.N. Division for the Advancement of Women, and the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW) - but with increased resources. The second option is to create a fund or programme (much like the U.N. Development Programme or the U.N. children's agency UNICEF), but financed with voluntary contributions from member states. The third option is to create a new department (much like the Department for Economic and Social Affairs) within the Secretariat. And the fourth option is to create a new hybrid entity, incorporating option two and three. "We are not advocating for a department within the U.N., and have made it clear to all involved that we would not find this acceptable," said Bunch, whose organisation is part of the GEAR coalition.

"However, we also want to be clear that the secretary-general's paper is also not recommending a department, but rather a composite," she added. From the beginning, Bunch pointed out, "we have been asked if we prefer a department or an agency and we have consistently said that we want a combination of both." "We believe that the separation of the normative/policy side in a department, from the operational in a fund, is one of the problems in the current arrangements for women's rights and believe that a stronger entity that combines both would be best," Bunch said. The trend in U.N. entities over the past two decades has been to combine both functions although they still follow the old structural divides. "What we think would be the most effective is to create a structure that recognises these trends and needs, and that is why we support the composite," she declared. Colette Tamko of the Women's Environment and Development Organisation (WEDO), which is part of the GEAR coalition, told IPS there is a consensus among member states that maintaining the status quo is not a viable option. "It is evident that the current U.N. gender equality architecture is fragmented, under-resourced and lacks a clear driver. This is the very reason behind the reform process and the GEAR Campaign," she added.

Asked whether the coalition hopes for a minimum of a one-billion-dollar annual budget for the new U.N. women's body, as proposed by some, Tamko said the GEAR Campaign is expecting the composite entity to be "ambitiously funded" - as stated in a report by a high-level panel of former world leaders and government officials, released in late 2006. "We are still asking for a minimum of 1.0 billion dollars, which we think needs to come from both assessed and voluntary contributions," she added. "We believe that a combination of both voluntary and assessed contributions would provide a more secure source of funding for the new women's entity." The only option that offers such combination, she said, is a composite body. "Having both voluntary and assessed contributions would also ensure more of a balance in terms of ownership between both northern and southern countries," she added. She recalled that when former Secretary-General Kofi Annan's office sought to advance this proposal in November 2006, they suggested a "hybrid" agency that had dual reporting so that it could combine normative and operational elements. Addressing a meeting of delegates recently, the secretary-general expressed his own preference when he said that a department would not provide a robust field presence. And a fund or programme would not fully eliminate fragmentation, link normative and operational work, or exercise the level of authority needed to hold all entities accountable for performance. "Thus, the composite entity remains the most promising option," he told delegates.


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