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25 Feb, 2011

“UN Women” Launched as Powerful Driver of Women’s Equality

As one of the world’s largest employers of women, the travel & tourism industry ought to take considerable interest in the historic February 24 launch of UN Women, a United Nations organisation dedicated solely to addressing the vast range of problems facing the world’s women and girls.

Formally known as the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, the new organisation combines four previous UN bodies and represents what is being described as “the United Nations’ most ambitious effort ever to accelerate actions to achieve gender equality.” It was launched at the UN Headquarters in New York in an evening with a guest list of luminaries from the worlds of politics, entertainment, business, the media, music and film.

According to an official release, “UN Women will support individual countries in moving towards gender equality in economics and politics, and ending the worldwide phenomenon of violence against women. It will assist in setting international standards for progress, and lead coordinated UN efforts to make new opportunities for women and girls central to all UN programmes for development and peace.”

Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has been appointed the first Executive Director of UN Women. In her inaugural speech, she noted that the decision to establish UN Women reflects “ongoing frustration with the slow pace of change” and is also a culmination of “longstanding advocacy by women’s activists.”

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

UN Women Goodwill Ambassador and Academy-Award winner Nicole Kidman described personal experiences of seeing women change the world. “There are incredible testimonies of resilience, strength and dignity—and ultimately of hope,” she says. “This is why I say that the women and girls I have met are my personal heroes. It is my pleasure and pride to be with UN Women, the new, strong voice for women around the world.”

Princess Cristina of Spain, in her capacity as President of the Institute of Health of Barcelona, urged broader understanding of how an investment in women is an investment in families, communities and nations. Citing uneven progress on aspects of the Millennium Development Goals such as reduced maternal mortality, she called on “all stakeholders and champions—governments, foundations, the private sector, civil society, academic institutions and individuals—to invest in women’s empowerment as an instrumental strategy to achieve the MDGs.”

The celebration of the launch of UN Women can be seen via webcast.

Five Thematic Priorities identified

Work on a few issues but achieve visible results, UN Women urged

Excerpts from Speech delivered by UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet at the opening of the 55th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, 22 February 2011.

Development analysts increasingly present evidence that gender equality is central to economic and social development, peace and democracy. Around the world, we see more men and men’s groups advocating to protect women’s rights, and we see more women take their place, alongside men, in using new technologies in creative ways, whether to market their products globally or to support movements for democratic transformation, as we have seen in recent weeks.

Here today are representatives from many countries that have made real progress in increasing women’s political representation at national and local levels, in achieving parity in primary education between girls and boys and in reducing the numbers of maternal deaths. Many of you have worked with your colleagues from Government and Parliament to secure passage of new or strengthened laws to penalize domestic violence, to eliminate discrimination in the labour market, to guarantee women’s property and inheritance rights.

At the same time, despite encouraging examples, this progress is uneven and fragile. As we sit in this room today, there are still too many women and children who are trafficked; too many domestic workers who left their families to live in new places, unprotected by labour laws or policies; too many girls forced to leave school or married too early; too many women and girls who lack access to services, whether agricultural extension, health clinics, affordable transportation or legal aid. And, worldwide, there are too few women who are at decision-making tables when peace, trade or climate change agreements are being negotiated.

The global jobs crisis is still unresolved, and unemployment rates remain well above pre-crisis levels. Millions of workers have been pushed into vulnerable employment, and a growing number of countries have endorsed fiscal austerity measures. In a time of crisis and flux, we must seize new opportunities and guard against postponing action for the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment until better or more stable conditions prevail, until we have tackled the current crisis, until we have progressed further on the road of development.

Lack of equality between women and men and discrimination against women impede progress in development, peace and security, and the realization of human rights. Discrimination and inequality are the problem — women are part of the solution, and we must fully tap women’s potential and creativity for a better future.

The specific and urgent challenges of reaching women — especially the poorest women — in rural areas in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals [MDGs], is something that we need to hear more about. The ways that women are affected by natural disasters, as well as conflict and displacement and the challenges they face in gaining access to decision-making in every sector are also important topics for this body.

This is why we need to hear frank analysis about the challenges that different countries and regions are facing and how we can work together at national, regional and global levels to address these.

These issues have always been crucial for the CSW, but we now have a strengthened opportunity with UN Women — a new UN entity that has a unique and clear mandate to help ensure a more seamless relationship between the normative guidance provided by Member States and operational activities. That too makes this session of the CSW particularly important, as it is the first opportunity to maximize the mandate of UN Women and turn these linkages into concrete changes for women and girls.

I wanted to share with you how UN Women will implement the vision on which it is grounded. This is a vision of a world where women and men have equal rights and opportunities, and the principles of gender equality and women’s empowerment are firmly integrated in the development, human rights, and peace and security agendas.

In my consultations with many stakeholders, I have heard a number of clear messages: that UN Women must focus on a few issues and achieve visible results; that we must work in partnership with the UN system, not in competition; that we must build on what we have achieved, but improve and deepen our work; and that we must think outside the box. Most importantly, we must prioritize support to national partners at country level.

Bearing in mind specific country contexts and capacities, UN Women will focus on five thematic priorities in its operational activities:

1) Expanding women’s voice, leadership and participation, working with partners to close the gaps in women’s leadership and participation in different sectors and to demonstrate the benefits of such leadership for society as a whole;

2) Ending violence against women by enabling states to set up the mechanisms needed to formulate and enforce laws, policies and services that protect women and girls, promote the involvement of men and boys, and prevent violence;

3) Strengthening implementation of the women, peace and security agenda, through women’s full participation in conflict resolution and peace processes, gender-responsive early warning, protection from sexual violence and redress for its survivors in accordance with UN resolutions;

4) Enhancing women’s economic empowerment including in the context of global economic and environmental crises; UN Women will work with governments and multilateral partners to ensure the full realization of women’s economic security and rights, including access to productive assets and full social protection;

5) Making gender equality priorities central to national, local and sectoral planning and budgeting: working with partners, UN Women will support national capacities in evidence-based planning, budgeting and statistics.

UN Women’s transition towards a dynamic and innovative Entity that integrates all our previous functions and mandates is a complex one, and we are working hard on it.

I am very grateful for the enthusiastic support that I have received from so many of you. I would ask that you give us some time, but also that you remain ardent advocates for UN Women to receive the resources necessary to assume its full role. And, finally, that you hold UN Women and the UN system accountable for meeting the high expectations that you so rightly have.

Interesting Further Reading

“The elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child”

Gender equality and sustainable development

Elimination of preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and the empowerment of women

The empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges

Progress in mainstreaming a gender perspective in the development, implementation and evaluation of national policies and programmes, with a particular focus on access and participation of women and girls in education, training, science and technology

Commission on the Status of Women to promote women’s and girls’ access to education, training, science & technology

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