United Nations Creates a New Women's Rights Coalition

A group of Pokot women in Chemeril Dam, Kenya.

After four tense years of negotiations between global advocates and UN Member states, the United Nations has established UN Women, an organization combining four previous UN women’s rights groups, to fight for gender equality and the empowerment of women.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “UN Women will significantly boost UN efforts to promote gender equality, expand opportunity, and tackle discrimination around the globe.”

Over the United Nations’s 65-year history, its primary objectives have centered on “gender mainstreaming,” or the promotion of gender equality through legislative initiatives and special programs. The UN’s focus on women began with the establishment of the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) in 1946.

While there has been a steady increase of government commitment to women's rights in the developing world, critics argue that many of the UN’s initiatives have been signed into legislation without further monitoring or even implementation. And while women comprise the majority of the population—as well as the world’s most impoverished—they are direly lacking in representation on an international scale.

According to UNIFEM, women provide 70 percent of agricultural labor and produce more than 90 percent of the food in some regions of the globe. Yet women earn 10 percent of the world’s income and own one percent of the world’s property.

With so much on the line for women struggling under global financial collapse, will the new coalition go beyond the UN’s initial aims of “gender mainstreaming” in order to create real change?

While the organization will not get to work until January 2011, Secretary-General Ban is currently inviting suggestions as to who should be appointed Under-Secretary-General to head UN Women. Member states and civil society partners are more likely to choose a leader from the non-Western, developing world, where international legislation is sorely needed. According to Amnesty International, maternal deaths in the US rose from 6.6 per 100,000 pregnancies and births in 1987 to 13.3 percent in 2006. While in South Asia, some 300 to 400 maternal deaths have been reported for every 100,000 pregnancies and births.

Former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet rumored to be a top choice for Under-Secretary-General.