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A Feminist Approach to UN Women

By Margot Baruch*

After a year since the resolution (A/RES/64/289) to establish UN Women was adopted, steps have been taken to ensure it becomes more than the sum of its parts. UN Women consolidates four previous UN parts that focused on gender equality: Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW), Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI), and United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).** UN Women’s Under-Secretary-General, Michele Bachelet, was appointed in September 2010 and since then has illustrated that she is vociferously committed to the success of the new entity.  With the official launch in January 2011, supporters were excited, but skeptical about its structure and vision.

In the last months, strategy plans and organizational documents have been shaping the programming of UN Women with some insight from civil society and although new high level appointments have been made, it seems that UN Women continues to lose sight of the constituency it is supporting: women.  As an active observer of this process since it began, I find that for UN Women to be effective, it needs to incorporate a feminist and women’s human rights lens while working in the bureaucratic confines of the United Nations.  It ought to pay homage to the women that came before by acknowledging the challenges they faced and honoring the triumphs they experienced. 

Ms. Bachelet’s powerful voice will be heard by government leaders globally who must not only hear that it is important to invest in women to increase capital, but that governments have an obligation to women to support their rights as humans, as leaders, as employees, as mothers, as daughters.  As head of UN Women, Ms. Bachelet has an opportunity to envision innovative ways of engaging with all stakeholders, especially civil society who advocated tirelessly for the entity’s creation.   In addition, UN Women should stress coherence between states policies (economic and social) at all levels to ensure that these policies are in line with human rights obligations, and particularly substantive equality, non-discrimination and economic, social and cultural rights.  Civil society also has an important role to play in not only monitoring UN Women’s policies and programs, but in pressuring Member States to increase financial commitments and ensure that UN Women has strong operational capacity.

One thing is very clear to me as I have observed this process as an outsider over the last five years, I expected more, but learning about what UN Women can and cannot do within the UN is critical to understanding its reality.  UN Women is one vehicle in the human rights domain for feminists and women’s rights advocates to harness.  As activists and feminists, we must remember that UN Women is not the only solution to gender equality, but a very important piece in progressing towards the realization of women’s rights. 

*Margot Baruch is Program Coordinator at the Center for Women’s Global Leadership.  She has been active in the GEAR Campaign since its inception.

** For more background visit http://www.gearcampaign.org/news_events/faq/new-gear-campaign-toolkit/.

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