The UN Reform... And Women?
For over 80 years, the relationship between women and international organisations has barely existed in historical records and has been scarcely promoted by the media.
Well before the Charter of the United Nations was approved in 1945, and already at the League of Nations, women fought and participated to include demands against discrimination, promoting the legal and social progress of women around the world. The international movement of women that took part in the creation of the United Nations - these "founding mothers" - should get the credit they deserve. March 2007
Everywhere in the world, women are second-class citizens. The UN's Member States have been pledging to correct that injustice and achieve equality between men and women since 1948, when they first adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Today, 182 countries are party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, declaring that human rights and fundamental freedoms belong equally to women and men in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil and every other field. And yet, wherever one turns - including within the United Nations itself -- men hold power and advantage over women. Although that reality is now viewed as wrong and counter-productive, most modern-day institutions, governments, cultures and traditions are locked in a rut, and continue to reinforce male centrality and superiority. Women's marginal, lower status and unrealised potential punishes half the world's population, but weakens us all. (Excerpted from "A Reformed UN Needs a Full-Fledged Women's Agency", by Stephen Lewis, UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, February 25, 2006).
For over 80 years, the relationship between women and international organisations has barely existed in historical records and has been scarcely promoted by the media. Well before the Charter of the United Nations was approved in 1945, and already at the League of Nations, women fought and participated to include demands against discrimination, promoting the legal and social progress of women around the world. The international movement of women that took part in the creation of the United Nations - these "founding mothers" - should get the credit they deserve.
Previously, in 1933, the first international treaty on equality for women was discussed at the Seventh International Conference of American States, which was only signed by Cuba, Ecuador, Paraguay and Uruguay. By this treaty, all participating countries adopted the Convention on the Nationality of Women that entitled women to maintain their own nationality upon marriage to a foreigner. It was the first international instrument adopted in the world with regards to women's rights. This Convention was decisive and acted as catalyst to make the League of Nations acknowledge the existence and legitimacy of women's rights movements in the region.
Today, thanks to the women's struggle and diplomacy at the global level over the decades, the international agenda includes many aims and policy proposals - which are consecrated in declarations, conventions and programmes for the progress of women - which go far beyond the existing laws and policies within most of the UN Member States.
In recent years, the UN reform has been an ongoing issue, until now mainly focused on Security Council reform. The latter is up till now the only aspect in the reform that has been appointed an ad-hoc advisory group to the General Assembly, the "open-ended working group" on Security Council reform, which has been holding meetings for the past ten years.
The different reform proposals and controversial policies attached to them reflect different views, expectations and evaluations on the nature of the problems experienced by the organisation. The different opinions that can be identified regarding UN reform can be divided into two main positions: the North and the South. This has sprung strong controversy since proposals regarding the UN reform also form part of the struggle for influence and control within the Organisation.
On February 16 2006, the United Nations announced the appointment of a new High-level Panel on UN System-wide Coherence in the areas of development, humanitarian assistance and the environment. This panel, made up of 12 men and only 3 women, is tasked with recommending changes to the UN within a broad range of structural, operational and policy issues related to these areas. Crosscutting gender and women's rights issues had not been included among the Panel's responsibilities until national and international women groups lobbied Kofi Annan.
"Twenty-seven years after the passage of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, now ratified by 180 governments; thirteen years after the International Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, when we coined the mantra "Women's Rights are Human Rights"; eleven years after the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, twice now reaffirmed at five-year intervals; almost exactly one month after the inauguration of the first-ever woman to be elected President in Africa (Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia); two weeks before the 50th anniversary session of the Commission on the Status of Women; and in the very year when the new President of Chile broke all known precedents to inaugurate a cabinet of exact gender equality, the multilateral system disgorges a high-level panel of fifteen people to look at the re-design of all those areas of the United Nations system which so significantly address the lives of women, and but three members of the panel are women". (Stephen Lewis)
At present, the UN has committees and agencies that deal exclusively with women's issues and are under-funded to perform their work: UNIFEM (the United Nations Development Fund for Women), DAW (Division for the Advancement of Women), OSAGI (the Office of the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women) and INSTRAW (United Nations International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women).
In 2006, women's groups and networks started to act in order to fill this void in the reform process, which at the same time has promoted a discussion on existing gender entities within the United Nations, their limited funding and status within the organisation. UNIFEM, for instance, does not even have the status of agency, being a department of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and has a budget so modest and a staff so small as to belie any possibility of an agency on a grand scale. It is worth comparing this situation with that of the World Tourism Organisation, which became a specialised UN agency in 2003. "With its own headquarters in Madrid and over 90 posts, it has greater organizational stature than any of the official "gender entities", and a larger staff than OSAGI, INSTRAW and DAW combined" (Lewis).
The discussion and proposals of organised women include controversial issues such as gender mainstreaming in all UN entities, whether this would imply an improvement with regards to women's rights or not, the creation of a new Agency with adequate funding, whether this Agency should be based on UNIFEM or not, that no Agency should be created until the rules of the game are made clear, etc.
It would seem then, that not only is it necessary to incorporate the discussion into the High-Level Panel but also that many more things should be changed to be able to talk about equity. In this report we provide information about the different positions on UN reform by women's networks and organisations around the world, UN official information, and several documents that contribute to analysis. This page is also open for those who are willing to send information they consider has not been included in this report.