At United Nations (UN) headquarters this week, member states moved another step closer to setting up a new women’s "super-agency." Last month, nations had pushed back when UN staff insisted governments approve a new office without providing details on its budget, structure, staffing, or mandate. At this week’s meeting, Member States were presented with a "consolidated response" paper from the UN Secretariat which detailed the staffing and cost projections of a new UN "gender entity."
For almost three years, the UN has discussed reforming its "gender architecture" by creating a centralized office which would be "the leader and voice on gender equality and the empowerment of women" and which would be "adequately resourced and with authority and capacity to drive and hold the United Nations system accountable." In her presentation to UN delegates on the new gender office, UN Secretary General’s Advisor on Gender Issues Rachel Mayanja stated that the aim of the new gender office was to have "global coverage."
Presently, all organizations within the UN system are mandated to address gender and women’s rights, and there are four offices charged with dealing with women’s issues: the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI), the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), and the International Institute for Research and Training for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW). The total number of staffers in all four divisions is 278, and current funding for the four divisions is just over $88 million.
The response paper approximates that the new UN entity would require over 1000 staffers, whose annual salaries alone would total almost $300 million. It is estimated that the overall budget for the supersized new entity – with 6 proposed "headquarter divisions," five regional offices and dozens of country offices, would total $1 billion annually – including non-voluntary funding from the United States and other major UN donors.
Radical feminist non-governmental organizations, such as Equality Now and the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), have campaigned hard for the new gender office alongside prominent former UN officials such as Stephen Lewis, the former deputy director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and ex-UN African AIDS czar. Last year, WEDO commenced a formal campaign for Gender Equality Architecture Reform (GEAR), lobbying for a "stronger, consolidated, higher status women’s entity." Three hundred organizations have signed onto the GEAR campaign.
Despite calls from Member States for more time and details on the new entity, UN officials are pushing for a quick decision, saying that there is a "compelling need to take decisive action without further delay in order to better equip the United Nations with an adequate institutional capacity to fully realize the goal of gender equality and the empowerment of women." Member States are expected to come to a final decision on the structure and funding of the new "super-agency for women" and present a resolution to be voted on by the General Assembly in the fall.