UN Women

UN entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women

UN Women is the United Nations body entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. UN Women is also known as United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.

It officially started as an interdependent entity in July, 2010, after the United Nations General Assembly unanimously voted to create a new entity to accelerate progress in meeting the needs of women and girls worldwide. The subsequent resolution, made public as the resolution 64/289, established the UN Women as the merger of the four previously distinct parts of the UN system dedicated exclusively on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

The UN Women has had two Under-Secretary-General or Executive Director to date. Being the first one former President of Chile Michelle Bachelet, appointed by the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in consultation with member states on 14 September 2010 and holding the seat until 15 March 2013. Michelle Bachelet was preceded by South African politician Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, which is the current head of the UN Women.

The UN Women focuses mainly on priority areas that are fundamental to women’s equality, and that can unlock progress across the board. These include strategic plans towards leadership and political participation; economic empowerment; ending violence against women; peace and security; humanitarian action; youth; governance and national planning; HIV and AIDS and sustainable development agenda. And, especially, working to achieve Goal 5: Gender Equality of the Sustainable Development Goals.

History of UN Commission on the Status of Women

The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) first met at Lake Success, New York, in February 1947, soon after the founding of the United Nations. All 15 government representatives were women. From its inception, the Commission was supported by a unit of the United Nations that later became the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) in the UN Secretariat. The CSW forged a close relationship with non-governmental organizations, with those in consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) invited to participate as observers.

From 1947 to 1962, the Commission focused on setting standards and formulating international conventions to change discriminatory legislation and foster global awareness of women’s issues. In contributing to the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the CSW successfully argued against references to “men” as a synonym for humanity, and succeeded in introducing new, more inclusive language.

Since the codification of the legal rights of women needed to be supported by data and analysis, the Commission embarked on a global assessment of the status of women. Extensive research produced a detailed, country-by-country picture of their political and legal standing, which over time became a basis for drafting human rights instruments.

The Commission drafted the early international conventions on women’s rights, such as the 1953 Convention on the Political Rights of Women, which was the first international law instrument to recognize and protect the political rights of women; and the first international agreements on women’s rights in marriage, namely the 1957 Convention on the Nationality of Married Women, and the 1962 Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages. The Commission also contributed to the work of UN offices, such as the International Labour Organization’s 1951 Convention concerning Equal Remuneration for Men and Women Workers for Work of Equal Value, which enshrined the principle of equal pay for equal work.

In 1963, efforts to consolidate standards on women’s rights led the UN General Assembly to request the Commission to draft a Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women

In 1963, efforts to consolidate standards on women’s rights led the UN General Assembly to request the Commission to draft a Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which the Assembly ultimately adopted in 1967. The legally binding Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), also drafted by the Commission, followed in 1979. In 1999, the Optional Protocol to the Convention introduced the right of petition for women victims of discrimination.

As evidence began to accumulate in the 1960s that women were disproportionately affected by poverty, the work of the Commission centred on women’s needs in community and rural development, agricultural work, family planning, and scientific and technological advances. The Commission encouraged the UN system to expand its technical assistance to further the advancement of women, especially in developing countries.

In 1972, to mark its 25th anniversary, the Commission recommended that 1975 be designated International Women’s Year—an idea endorsed by the General Assembly to draw attention to women’s equality with men and to their contributions to development and peace. The year was marked by holding the First World Conference on Women in Mexico City,  followed by the 1976–1985 UN Decade for Women: Equality, Development and Peace. Additional world conferences took place in Copenhagen  in 1980 and Nairobi  in 1985. New UN offices dedicated to women were established, in particular the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW).

In 1987, as part of follow-up to the Third World Conference on Women in Nairobi, the Commission took the lead in coordinating and promoting the UN system’s work on economic and social issues for women’s empowerment. Its efforts shifted to promoting women’s issues as cross-cutting and part of the mainstream, rather than as separate concerns. In the same period, the Commission helped bring violence against women to the forefront of international debates for the first time. These efforts resulted in the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women adopted by the General Assembly on 20 December 1993. In 1994, a UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences was appointed by the Commission on Human Rights, with a mandate to investigate and report on all aspects of violence against women.

The Commission served as the preparatory body for the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women , which adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. After the conference, the Commission was mandated by the General Assembly to play a central role in monitoring implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and advising ECOSOC accordingly. As called for in the Platform for Action, an additional UN office for the promotion of gender equality was established: the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI).

In 2011, the four parts of the UN system mentioned above—DAW, INSTRAW, OSAGI and UNIFEM—merged to become UN Women, now the Secretariat of the Commission on the Status of Women.

Current Status and Governance

In July 2010, United Nations Member States adopted the General Assembly Resolution 64/289 establishing a new United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) consolidating four separate former United Nations entities. 

“In creating UN-Women, the international community sent the message that gender equality and women’s rights are on par with other global imperatives,” The UN-Women Executive Board An Informal Guide (February 2015) 

The UN Women has had two Under-Secretary-General or Executive Director to date, being the first one former President of Chile Michelle Bachelet.

UN Women has 75 offices around the world, which marks an unprecedented global reach. UN-Women is a powerful advocacy voice with governments, with United Nations sister agencies, with United Nations country teams, with nongovernmental organizations, with the private sector, and with the public at large. 

“Thanks to its close ties with women’s organizations on the ground, UN-Women understands what women believe are the most critical issues globally. As a United Nations organization, UN-Women is in a position to amplify these voices and to make heard women’s concerns, realities and priorities,” The UN-Women Executive Board An Informal Guide (February 2015) 

UN-Women has two multi-tiered governance structures. One consists of the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), and the Executive Board. It is the governance structure for the organization’s operational activities and provides operational policy guidance to UN-Women. The other consists of the General Assembly, ECOSOC, and the Commission on the Status of Women. It is the governance structure for the organization’s normative support functions and provides normative policy guidance to UN-Women. 

ECOSOC is responsible for establishing appropriate and concrete linkages between the Commission on the Status of Women and the Executive Board to ensure consistency between the overall policy guidance set by the Commission and the operational strategies and operational activities approved by the Executive Board (paragraph 67(b) of GA resolution 64/289). 

UN-Women operates on the basis of voluntary contributions from Governments and donations from the private sector, including National Committees for UN-Women, foundations and individuals. UN-Women also receives funding from the assessed contributions of the United Nations regular budget. 

UN-Women is administered by the Under-Secretary-General/Executive Director under policies established by the Executive Board in accordance with such principles as may be laid down by the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly. 

The Executive Board

The Board consists of 41 members: 10 from African States; 10 from Asian States; 4 from Eastern European States; 6 from Latin American and Caribbean States; 5 from Western Europe and Other States; and 6 from top contributing countries. 

The functions of the Executive Board are outlined in annex 1 of General Assembly resolution 48/162 of 20 December 1993 (the annex is attached) and in the provisions of General Assembly resolution 64/289. 

In general, the Board provides guidance to the Under-Secretary-General/Executive Director on the operational work of UN-Women; ensures that its operational activities and strategies are consistent with the overall policy guidance set forth by the General Assembly, ECOSOC and monitors the organization’s performance; approves its Strategic Plans, programmes and activities, including those at the country level; and decides on its administrative and financial plans and its budgets, among other things. 

The Executive Board’s annual term is identical to a calendar year and runs from 1 January to 31 December. Each year, the Economic and Social Council elects members to the Board from among the United Nations Member States. To ensure continuity of experience, only a certain number of new members are elected in any given year. Usually, each member serves a three-year term.

The Western European and Others group has established a rotation schedule for its members under which some States do not serve a full three-year term.

Functions of the Executive Board 

UN Women ad found in New York Underground

The working methods of the Executive Board evolve as Board sessions unfold and lessons are learned. The examples provided below reflect the common practices of similar Boards. They are intended as a guide only. The Executive Board of UN-Women is in the process of developing its own working methods as it proceeds. 

The Executive Board is responsible for providing intergovernmental support to, and supervision of, the operational activities of UN-Women in accordance with the overall policy guidance of the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council, and in accordance with its respective responsibility as set out in the Charter of the United Nations, as well as for ensuring that UNWomen is responsive to the needs and priorities of recipient countries. The Executive Board of UN-Women is thus subject to the authority of the Economic and Social Council and has the following functions: 

  • To implement the policies formulated by the General Assembly and the coordination and guidance received from the Economic and Social Council; 
  • To receive information from and give guidance to the Under-Secretary-General/Executive Director on the work of UN-Women; 
  •  To ensure that the activities and operational strategies of UN-Women are consistent with the overall policy guidance set forth by the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council, in accordance with their respective responsibility as set out in the Charter; 
  • To monitor the performance of UN-Women; 
  • To decide on administrative and financial plans and budgets; 
  • (To recommend new initiatives to the Economic and Social Council and, through the Council, to the General Assembly, as necessary; 
  • To encourage and examine new programme initiatives; 
  • To submit annual reports to the Economic and Social Council at its substantive session; these could include recommendations, where appropriate, for improvement of field-level coordination.

Goals

UN Women is the United Nations body entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. It aims to accelerate progress in meeting the needs of women and girls worldwide. 

In accordance with the provisions of resolution 64/289, UN Women will work within the framework of the UN Charter and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, including its twelve critical areas of concern and the outcome of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly, as well as other applicable UN instruments, standards and resolutions that address gender equality and the empowerment and advancement of women.

UN Women’s main thematic areas of work

UN Women’s main thematic areas of work include:

The main roles of UN Women are:

  • To support inter-governmental bodies, such as the Commission on the Status of Women, in their formulation of policies, global standards and norms
  • To help Member States to implement these standards, standing ready to provide suitable technical and financial support to those countries that request it and to forge effective partnerships with civil society
  • To enable member states to hold the UN system accountable for its own commitments on gender equality, including regular monitoring of system-wide progress.

The year 2015 marked a number of significant milestones, such as the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which was the focus of the 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW59) from 9–20 March 2015, where global leaders took stock of progress and remaining challenges for implementing this landmark agreement for gender equality and women’s rights. 

UN Women played an active role in major intergovernmental negotiations and processes including the Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa in July 2015, the outcome of which was strong on the need to adequately fund gender equality and incorporate it in development planning, as well as the negotiations and successful adoption of the new post-2015 development agenda on 25 September 2015. The new global development roadmap includes a stand-alone goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment (Sustainable Development Goal 5), and mainstreams these priorities throughout all 17 goals.

Strategic Plan 2018-2021

UN-Women’s Strategic Plan 2018-2021 outlines the Entity’s strategic direction

UN-Women’s Strategic Plan 2018-2021 outlines the Entity’s strategic direction, objectives and approaches to support efforts to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls by 2030. The Strategic Plan considers lessons learned from the previous Strategic Plan. It builds on recommendations from the 20-year review and appraisal of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, highlights UN-Women’s contribution to the gender-responsive implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable development, and spells out how UN-Women intends to leverage its comparative and collaborative advantages to accelerate the achievement of results for women and girls. 

With a cross-cutting emphasis on responding to countries’ requests and leaving no woman or girl behind, the Strategic Plan outlines five strategic priorities for UN Women in 2018–2021:

  • A comprehensive and dynamic set of global norms, policies, and standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women is strengthened and implemented.
  • Women lead, participate in, and benefit equally from governance systems.
  • Women have income security, decent work, and economic autonomy.
  • All women and girls live a life free from all forms of violence.
  • Women and girls contribute to and have greater influence in building sustainable peace and resilience, and benefit equally from the prevention of natural disasters and conflicts and humanitarian action.

UN Women will support the achievement of these outcomes by leveraging its comparative advantages and its collaborative advantage, focused on its catalytic role and building partnerships in support of results for women and girls. In this regard, the Strategic Plan outlines how UN Women will leverage its mandate of normative support, UN system coordination and operational activities for results. The Integrated results and resources framework outlines the specific results that UN Women aims to achieve and the estimated budget required.

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