Towards A New UN Gender Equality Entity
A new United Nation’s entity for gender equality and women’s empowerment is in the offing. Proposals on what form it should take will be submitted to the UN General Assembly in September this year.
By Kathambi Kinoti
There is symbiotic relationship between women’s movements and UN gender equality structures and functions. The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is almost universally accepted as the international bill of women’s rights and the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA) as its plan of operation. UN women’s conferences have influenced the formation and growth of global, regional and national women’s movements and organisations, as well as discourse and paradigm shifts. The 3rd UN women’s conference in Nairobi in 1985 catalysed the sprouting of women’s NGOs in the region. The analytical, normative and operational functions of the UN’s gender architecture have in turn been supported, impacted and often driven by the work of women’s civil society organisations all over the world. Every year, the strong presence of women’s rights organisations is felt at the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and shadow country progress reports presented by these organisations serve a crucial function.
Women’s rights organisations have also provided critical feedback on the ways in which the UN gender architecture can be improved to better serve its end. One shortcoming of the current system is that it is fragmented. Four entities carry out gender equality functions: the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women (OSAGI), the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the United Nations International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW). Additionally, within each organisation in the UN system there are gender units, advisers or focal points.
The gaps in internal coherence and absence of a strong single voice and driver for gender equality and women’s empowerment contribute to the difficulty in translating norms and policies into implementation. Women’s rights advocates also want to see improvements in the stature and resourcing of the UN’s gender equality machinery.
Four proposals for reform have been made.
* Status quo with increased funding: A proposal for the status quo to be maintained is unlikely to be adopted since fragmentation will not be addressed.
* Set up a new fund or programme akin to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) or the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF): This would partially consolidate the four entities and report to an executive board. A programme or fund would not carry out some functions that the UN Secretariat currently performs such as monitoring the implementation of the BPfA or Security Council Resolution 1325 of 2000. It would have a strong country presence, contribute to research and analysis and undertake advocacy. Funding for a programme or fund would come from voluntary contributions.
* Create a new department: A department of the secretariat would report to the General Assembly through the Secretary-General. It would not have a strong implementation function or field presence, but would provide technical advice and assistance to countries. Funding would be through assessed contributions from UN member states, as well as voluntary contributions.
* Establish a composite entity. The Secretary-General has proposed having a combination of the second and third options. The hybrid entity would consolidate the analytical, normative and operational functions that the four gender equality entities currently perform, and would be headed by an Under-Secretary-General. It would have both a field presence and a presence at the secretariat. Like the department option, it would be funded by assessed and voluntary contributions.
The fourth option is widely preferred by gender equality advocates. A coalition of over 300 women’s rights organisations from all over the world has been campaigning for a number of years for reform of the UN gender architecture. The global campaign, Gender Equality Architecture Reform (GEAR) supports the proposal for a composite entity, as did the immediate former UN Secretary-General’s office. The period before September this year will be critical for lobbying for support of option four which is likely to strengthen the appreciation of gender equality as not only an end, but a means to the achievement of the goals of development, peace and respect for human rights.