New UN Women’s Agency Now Much Closer
FRIDAY FILE: The richer, more powerful UN women’s agency that women have long asked for is now much closer to becoming a reality, but there are still challenges ahead.
By Kathambi Kinoti
For a number of years, women’s movements have called for a stronger, better resourced body within the United Nation to promote women’s rights and gender equality. The sustained pressure that they have applied has begun to bear fruit. As part of a package of reforms to the system, the UN General Assembly on September 14, 2009 adopted a resolution strongly supporting the consolidation of the four agencies within the organisation that are mandated with promoting women’s rights and gender equality. Resolution 63/311 supports having the composite entity headed by an Under-Secretary General who will report directly to the Secretary-General.
By also requiring the Secretary-General to submit to it a comprehensive proposal on the mission, structure and funding of the entity, the General Assembly set in motion a critical process. In January 2010 the Secretary-General gave his comprehensive proposal in which he suggested:
- The mission of the composite entity will be to work towards the elimination of discrimination against women and girls, the empowerment of women and the achievement of equality between men and women. Its role would be to lead and coordinate UN system efforts to ensure that commitments on gender equality and gender mainstreaming translate into action, and to provide strong and coherent leadership to states – in partnership with civil society.
- Like UNDP, UNICEF and UNFPA, the composite entity be a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly and report to it through the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
- The composite entity will have three levels of operation: country, regional and headquarters level.
- An Executive Board will oversee the operations of the composite entity. The Secretary General set out two options:
a) An autonomous section be carved out of the UNDP/UNFPA Executive Board;
b) A completely new Executive Board be set up.
The former option he says, will be faster and less expensive than the latter.
- The normative support work of the composite entity will be funded by the UN’s regular budget, while its operational and programming work will be funded by voluntary contributions.
What Women Want
The Gender Equality Architecture Reform (GEAR) Campaign, which is a network of more than 300 organisations around the world, has been instrumental in advocating for a stronger gender equality entity. According to Prof. Charlotte Bunch, Founding Director of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL), a member of GEAR, the group may not have had any direct role in the negotiations for a new women’s body, but has over the past three years build a significant support base in the world that ensured that governments understood the need for a strong entity. She says: “Without support and pressure from women’s and other civil society organisations, this wouldn’t have happened.”
In a statement issued during the 54th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) the group urged that:
- The new entity should have a strong leadership role within the UN system in the areas of both policy and operations.
- It should have substantial operational capacity to serve women at the national level.
- Member states should immediately pledge core, predictable and multi-year voluntary funds. GEAR says that the USD 500 million proposed by the Secretary-General “can only be understood as resources for the initial phase.”
- Civil society - particularly women’s organisations - should occupy official seats in the governing board of the entity.
- A transparent process for recruitment of the entity’s first Under Secretary General should begin immediately in consultation with states and civil society.
Discussions between states on the Secretary- General’s comprehensive proposal began in February 2010. GEAR had hoped for a resolution founding the composite entity to be passed quickly but the progress has been disappointing. The slow pace can be attributed to the fact that this process is happening in the context of system wide coherence reforms within the UN, as well as to the reluctance of some G77 countries to give approval before there is concrete agreement on governance and funding issues. Prof Bunch expresses the hope that the resolution to set up the composite entity will be passed in time for the ECOSOC Annual Ministerial Review in June 2010, and that the entity will be launched in time for the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) review in September 2010.
Although civil society is not directly involved in the negotiations for the women’s entity, there is room for them to influence the process. “Women’s organisations in should make known to their governments that they need the entity to be established now,” says Prof Bunch. “Those in the global South should urge their governments to demand that the new agency have a strong country presence and operational capacity, while those in the North should urge their governments to pledge substantial funding for the agency now.”
It is certain that the hard work that has gone into advocacy for a new higher-level UN agency for women’s rights and gender equality is paying off. There is no going back from the General Assembly resolution that supported the consolidation of the four UN women’s agencies and intention it expressed that the new entity be headed by an Under Secretary General. However women’s rights advocates cannot afford to relax now, because crucial decisions have to be made about the resourcing of the entity, the hiring of its new leader, its relationship with civil society and the modalities of its operational and policy making mandate. “We have now moved out of the realm of the hypothetical,” says Prof. Bunch. “But we are concerned that like its predecessors, the new agency could be hobbled by expectations without resources.”
See also CWGL’s webpage on Gender Architecture Reform.
This article is part of the AWID’s weekly Friday File series, exploring important issues and events from a women’s rights perspective. To subscribe to the weekly Friday File newsletter, click here.