Thursday, 13 January 2011

Can UN Women Reverse the United Nations' Absent-Minded Approach to Gender Equality?

The Huffington Post (click here to view this on The Huffington Post)

On the first day of the New Year, history was made when the newest agency of the United Nations, UN Women, became operational with a mandate to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women. The new agency launched pretty quietly with no major celebration, despite representing a major step in the right direction for the United Nations, which has not made enough progress to advance gender equality.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is rightfully taking heat after failing to mention UN Women in a year end op-ed for the Sydney Morning Herald. He also acknowledged all of the Millennium Development Goals with the exception of MDG 3, to promote gender equality and empower women, leaving many to question how committed the United Nations really is to gender equality and the new UN Women agency.

In an open letter entitled "UN Women's First Hurdle: Educating Ban Ki-moon," Paula Donovan and Stephen Lewis of AIDS-Free World expressed concern over the omission of UN Women in Ki-moon's op-ed:

The Secretary-General speaks of the challenges and struggles of the United Nations as it enters the New Year. It would have been a tremendous opportunity to draw attention to UN Women... after all, the creation of an entirely new agency devoted to half the world's population is something to be noted and celebrated. But there's not a word on UN Women.

More alarming than the lack of hoopla surrounding the launch of UN Women is the fact that the United Nations thinks it is progressing towards gender equality and the empowerment of women when women are rarely appointed to leadership roles within the agency. The United Nations has never appointed a female Secretary-General since its inception in 1945.

Even after the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 in 2000, which intended to amplify the role women play in resolving conflicts, women have only made up seven percent of negotiators in major United Nations peace talks over the past decade. Yet women are still the victims of an overwhelming amount of violence, particularly in conflict zones. The United Nations could demonstrate a stronger commitment to gender equality by first ensuring that men and women have equal representation at peace talks and throughout decision making processes.

Appointed Executive Director of UN Women and former President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, has many challenges ahead, but she is a charismatic and strong leader who could have made a superb replacement for Ki-moon when his term ends at the end of this year. If anyone can lead UN Women towards real progress concerning gender equality and championing the rights of women worldwide, Bachelet can, and I, for one, hope she has the full, unwavering support of the United Nations and the Secretary-General.

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