• Saturday, November 29, 2014
  • A program of IPS Inter Press Service supported by the Dutch MDG3 Fund

    UN Women Celebrates Launch as Leading Player in Gender Equality

    Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of the newly-created UN Women. Credit:UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

    By Kanya D’Almeida

    UNITED NATIONS, Feb 24, 2011 (IPS) – After years of planning, fundraising and consultations, U.N. Women was officially launched Thursday evening to much celebration.

    Drawing luminaries from every realm of the international community, as well as the entertainment, politics, media and film industries, the event was in keeping with the historic moment that U.N. Women marks.

    Formally known as the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, U.N. Women combines four pre-existing U.N. agencies into one task force that embodies the highest ambitions and aspirations of the drivers of gender equality.

    From grassroots organisations in far-flung corners of the world, to top-level diplomats, and everyone in-between, U.N. Women was saluted as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put an end to gender discrimination, and all its odious expressions and manifestations, throughout the world.

    “For the first time in history women at the United Nations will have a seat on all the major decision-making bodies within the UN,” Kathy Peach, chair of the Gender and Development Network Working Group on U.N. Women, and head of external affairs of VSO UK, told IPS.

    “So for the first time women will have a place at the highest level on bodies such as U.N. AIDS,” she added.

    “Additionally, if U.N. Women gets the money it needs, it will be able to run programmes that tackle all the issues that we know are important to women, including ending violence against women, pushing for women’s increased political participation, and creating opportunities for women to earn an income,” Peach concluded.

    U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has been a staunch supporter of U.N. Women since its seeds were sown some years ago.

    “With the birth of U.N. Women, we welcome a powerful new agent for progress on gender equality and women’s empowerment,” Ban said.

    “The challenges are great, but I believe that with the new energy, the new momentum and the new authority that U.N. Women brings, these challenges will be met. True gender equality should be our shared legacy in the 21st Century,” he added.

    Former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet was brought on board by Ban as the first executive director of U.N. Women. A long-time champion of gender equality and women’s rights, Bachelet emphasised that the establishment of U.N. Women reflects a long history of frustration with the slow pace of change.

    She noted that U.N. Women was voted into existence unanimously by the 192-member General Assembly following years of advocacy by a spectrum of women’s rights advocates including activists, organisers, lawyers, health professionals, and artists.

    “Think of how much more we can do once women are fully empowered as active agents of change and progress within their societies,” Bachelet said. “Historically, we are at a point of great potential and change for women. Now we must seize that opportunity.” She added, “My own experience has taught me that there is no limit to what women can do.”

    Despite much-deserved celebration, U.N. Women cannot afford to lose a minute in getting down to solid work. Even on the day of the launch, the organisation’s funding remains dismally low – the pledges for 2011 total a mere 55 million dollars, a fraction of what is needed to ensure the agency’s smooth take-off.

    NGOs that have supported and guided the formation of U.N. Women for years are anxious that the massive shortfall in funding will hinder U.N. Women’s trajectory even before it has a chance to soar, and have been pushing the governments in their respective countries to hugely step up their funding efforts.

    VSO UK and Oxfam, two development NGOs that are incredibly invested in the success of U.N. Women, released a report Wednesday called the ‘Blueprint for U.N. Women’, which details the results of a comprehensive survey that polled the opinions of grassroots women’s groups, leaders and activists from over 25 countries on their hopes and expectations of the new agency.

    According to the report, an overwhelming majority of women believe that ending violence against women must be the first and most urgent priority of U.N. Women. A huge percent of those polled also expressed the opinion that U.N. organisations on the ground have hitherto been constrained by ties to national governments, and were unfamiliar with the situation on the ground.

    All this must change if U.N. Women is to bypass the flaws and pitfalls of its predecessors.

    “We hope that U.N. Women can learn from the lessons of past agencies – but this would mean that U.N. Women has to go into countries and talk to local civil society organizations at country-level,” Farah Karimi, Executive Director, Oxfam Novib, told IPS, stressing that the Blueprint should guide and instruct U.N. Women as it moves forward.

    The splendor of the launch, graced by the presence of eminent persons from royalty to celebrities, only serves to solidify the critique that high-level discussions and global policy will not be enough to bring U.N. Women’s dreams to fruition.

    More important than ever are women’s voices from the global south, from those places in the world so wracked by destitution and violence that the pomp of events such as these cannot even be imagined.

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