Last Friday the General Assembly voted to consolidate four separate United Nations (UN) bodies dedicated to women’s issues into one new gender equality entity called “UN Women.” The resolution capped a victory for radical feminists who lobbied for years for the new entity and is the latest in an overall push to bring women’s issues even more onto the UN agenda.
After four years of sometimes harsh negotiations, member states agreed on simplifying the disjointed efforts of four UN offices dedicated to women’s issues; the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW), Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) and the Office of the Special Advisor on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI).
The framework for UN Women is the Beijing Platform for Action, which calls for an end to discrimination against women especially highlighting education, employment, political participation and human rights. An Under-Secretary-General appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will head the new body and member states are calling for a prompt appointment before the General Assembly meets in September. Many are speculating that former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet will be chosen. Bachelet is a socialist who promoted reproductive health and women’s rights during her political career. The Under-Secretary-General will hold a 4-year term with a possibility of one renewable term.
The Gender Equality Architecture Reform (GEAR) campaign, a coalition of radical feminist groups and abortion advocates, has relentlessly lobbied to create a UN super-agency to deal with women’s issues. Charlotte Bunch, executive director of the Centre for Women’s Global Leadership and the leading advocate of the GEAR campaign, said, “We have high expectations for this new agency […] The coalition of women’s groups and other social justice, human rights and development organizations that played a pivotal role in this effort will now turn its efforts toward ensuring that the new body has the human and financial resources necessary to succeed.”
The new body will be governed by an executive board consisting of 41 members: 10 African, 10 Asian, 4 Eastern European, 5 Western European/Other States, 6 Latin American/Caribbean, and 6 from contributing countries, of which 4 seats are allocated to the largest donor countries and 2 seats to donors from developing countries.
Some member states have expressed concern that the cultures and objectives of recipient countries would not be respected. The resolution reaffirms that there is no “one size fits all” approach to development assistance, reflecting what is generally a split between rich industrial states where radical feminism holds sway and poorer countries where basic necessities must be met.
Wendy Wright, President of Concerned Women of America, told the Friday Fax, “Women need respect and opportunity, not a global agency demanding money and power for its well-heeled elitist leaders. The money would be better spent going directly to the areas and people in need with programs that have proven to work, not to another agency to empower the people who run it.”