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The Superagency – Recent U.N. Decisions Bear New Hope For Womankind

October 2, 2009
Last week, the United Nations passed a landmark resolution towards the disarmament of the five nuclear weapons states (U.S., U.K., China, France, and Russia). This week, the U.N. is continuing a heated debate on how to approach the escalating situation in Iran. This is not all that the organization has been doing, however. Preceding this recent limelit activity was the consolidation of four U.N. agencies into one superagency to help streamline and empower the U.N.’s commitment to the protection and advancement of women all around the world.
Women of the world...

Women of the world...

One of the declarations laid forth in the preamble of the 1945 founding charter of the U.N. stated a determination to “reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.” The intention was golden, but translating intention into actuality has been a challenge.
San Francisco, where it all began: the signing of the U.N. charter in 1945

San Francisco, where it all began: the signing of the U.N. charter in 1945

The four U.N. women’s advancement agencies slated for amalgamation are:

1. Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW)

2. Office of the Special Advisor to the Secretary General on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women (OSAGI)

3. U.N. International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (UN-INSTRAW)

4. U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)

All four groups possess the same raison d’etre, but have very different functions. DAW is a policy oriented task force that promotes equal policies, sees through the implementation of gender equalizing policies, and promotes the general “mainstreaming of gender perspectives across all sectors, both within and outside the United Nations system.” OSAGI, on the other hand, was specifically created in 1997 to be a driving force in the implementation of U.N. projects such as the Millenium Declaration and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. The group depends upon other U.N. agencies to respond to the findings of their own policy research, and shares a budget of $13 million with DAW.

The Millennium Declaration hopes to reverse scenes of poverty such as this one in the Philippines by 2015

The Millennium Declaration hopes to reverse scenes of poverty such as this one in the Philippines by 2015

UN-INSTRAW was established in 1976 as a research center. Based in the Dominican Republic, the agency specializes in training and capacity building for its purposes. Last but not least, UNIFEM was established in the same year as INSTRAW in response to a women’s organization in attendance to the first U.N. World Conference on Women held in Mexico City in 1976. The agency provides financial and technical assistance to government programs dedicated to the advancement of women. UNIFEM’s goals are very targeted, and highlight the four core goals of reducing female poverty, ending violence against women, reversing the reach of AIDS amongst women and children, and enabling women to be equally represented in a democratic governance in times of peace or in times of war.

Women suffering from AIDS are among those that UNIFEM seeks to help

Women suffering from AIDS are among those whom UNIFEM seeks to help

Beyond these operational differences, the organizations are also monitored by different branches; DAW and OSAGI report to the U.N. Secretariat, while UN-INSTRAW and UNIFEM report to the General Assembly.

A Pacific Islander participating in a UNIFEM-funded government development program

A Pacific Islander participating in a UNIFEM-funded government development program

Regardless of the hits to its authority suffered during the Bush administration, the U.N. continues to stand out as a beacon of international cooperation and humanitarianism. Therefore, it is not difficult to assume that the U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) is to female advancement what UNICEF is for children’s rights. Alas, the current structure of the women’s advancement agencies in the U.N. could use some revamping.

As is, the women’s subagencies tend to be run by officials who do not have as much power as their higher-ranking superiors. Last month, UNIFEM issued a report on the progress of women’s rights ahead of the looming 2015 deadline for the Millenium Development Goals to end poverty for all men and women. UNIFEM’s own statistics on this occasion exposed persistent gender inequities that demand ever more of the U.N.’s nobly-intentioned but strained subagencies. According to facts shared in a recent CNN article:

• Only 1 out of 4 people in legislatures around the world is a woman.

• Over 60% of all unpaid family workers around the world are women.

• Women still earn an average of 17% less than men

• One-third of all women continue to suffer gender-based violence at some point in their lives.

• In some parts of the world, 1 in 10 women dies from pregnancy-related causes even though effective and affordable prevention exists.

The bold GEAR logo shows exactly where the campaign's priorities stand

The bold GEAR logo shows exactly where the campaign's priorities stand

“Gender gaps on this scale are symptomatic of an accountability crisis,” UNIFEM has said. “Governments and multilateral organizations have a responsibility to do a better job of answering to women.” Seeing this, some 310 civil union groups formed the European Campaign for Gender Equality Architecture Reform (GEAR), and demanded that the U.N. consolidate its efforts. To emphasize its point, GEAR created a map of the soon-to-be old structure, whose complications have resulted in operations that have been described as “fragmented, uncoordinated and under-resourced.”

On September 14, 2007, the U.N. agreed to the merge in Resolution A/RES/63/311, born out of the consensus of the 192 member countries. Cuba, Egypt, Iran, and Sudan demanded specific proposals for a mission statement, budgets, and executive board before approval of the plan, but Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the other countries approved the motion anyway. The very next day, the 64th Session of the U.N. General kicked off at the headquarters in New York City. On the agenda; hammer out the details of how to proceed with this unanimously supported resolution, and to choose who will head up this massive agency. It will be interesting to see how this huge decision manifests itself.
A peek into the 64th Session of the United Nations General Assembly at the headquarters in New York

A peek into the 64th Session of the United Nations at the headquarters in New York

Popular criticisms among those who dare to pick at the visionary efforts of the United Nations include the assembly’s inability to hold individual countries accountable to their commitments and the institutional disorganization caused by flowering agencies, task forces, funds, and projects.

Indeed, a quick glance over the websites of the four soon-to-be-united agencies shows that there is a lotgoing on right now. On one hand, this is to be commended. On the other hand, it is true that the proliferation of separate operations could lend itself to difficulties with accountability and implementation. Most important, a bit of consolidation would help everyday people educate themselves about current women’s issues through one accessible, authoritative channel such as a U.N. superagency for women.

Climate change is one of many issues that the new U.N. superagency will have to battle in the quest for the advancement of women [Credit: U.N. photo by Tim McKulka]With all the world looking to the U.N. to solve so many of the world’s problems, the pressure is on for the organization to follow through with goals of fantastical proportion. Obstacles aside, however, it seems that the consolidation of the women’s advancement agencies is a brilliant and heartening move, perfectly timed to catch the attention and funds normally directed towards more better known sectors of the United Nations.

Based in Andover, Massachusetts, Jia H. Jung is a Master of Pacific and International Affairs accounting for an international wholesaler. You can contact her at

One Comment
  1. October 13, 2009 4:04 pm

    We also support human and women’s rights in Iran. Fashion, environmental responsibility and social justice can all be combined to change the world, please read our post for more info:

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