UN Women and MDGs: Toward Progress and Change?

Part 1
UN Women: A New Entity Paves a New Path

This week and next bring pivotal United Nations announcements and meetings. While the 600 page report on Rwanda’s possible act of genocide in the Democratic Republic of Congo stalled until October 1, reports are now focusing on the appointment of former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet to head UN Women, the United Nations' new agency for promoting women's equality. Also at the top of the UN’s agenda is the UN Summit, a high-level plenary meeting being held early next week in New York City to assess the progress of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG).

In July, the creation of UN Women hit major news sources. The BBC's piece, "UN to Set Up Agency Promoting Women's Rights," quoted the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moo as saying, "UN Women will significantly boost UN efforts to promote gender equality, expand opportunity and tackle discrimination around the globe."

Her Blueprint's "United Nations Creates a New Women's Rights Coalition" explained that the creation of UN Women came out of four years of intense negotiation and struggle, but was a major step toward change because it unifies four UN divisions into a single and more powerful entity to deal directly with women's issues. Paula Donovan, Co-Director of AIDS-Free World, an international advocacy organization committed to speaking up for people affected by AIDS, as well as advance the causes of social justice and promote the human rights of people, particularly women, recently asserted how important the new UN Women entity.

“This year, the international community finally came to the realization that it will never be possible to achieve peace and social justice — or any of the hundreds of targets within those broad goals — if we continue to work with and in the best interests of just half the human population. The establishment of a UN women’s agency is also global recognition that the subordination and exploitation of women are not just unethical: they are ubiquitous, destructive, tenacious, varied, complex and at this point, so commonplace as to be invisible. Therefore, we need experts who have studied gender, its history, causes and consequences, and its inescapable, prejudicial and overwhelmingly destructive involvement in every facet of our lives, from child care to macroeconomic policy formulation, from literacy and numeracy to nuclear disarmament, from cancer research to violence prevention, and from agricultural production to mining, transportation, language and the arts."

After the establishment of UN Women so began the search for its leader. Last week, the AP broke the story of the strongest candidate for the new agency with Official: Chile's Bachelet Frontrunner for UN Post. This week, on September 14, Michelle Bachelet, pictured here, was officially appointed as Under-Secretary-General (USG) of UN Women. As the former President of Chile (the country's first) and with an extensive background in health and public service, her appointment is perceived as a major triumph.

The GEAR Campaign is a network of over 300 women’s, human rights, and social justice groups around the world formed to gain UN Member States and UN Secretariat approval for creation of a larger more coherent coordinated UN agency to further gender equality. GEAR released the following statement yesterday. “Michelle Bachelet is a top notch choice and has long been one of GEAR’s dream candidates. An effective leader of great integrity, Bachelet has demonstrated strong commitment to women’s empowerment and the ability to shape gender equality policies in a variety of areas. She also has the stature to mobilize the resources crucial to make UN Women a success.”

However, even while the announcement of Bachelet as USG of UN Women is celebrated, the selection process itself is said to have continued embracing older UN protocols. AIDS-Free World's Paula Donovan her thoughts on Bachelet’s selection process and her appointment. In the positive, Donovan says, “We have an excellent, high-profile, progressive USG with the profile and experience to take on this significant role.”

But, Donovan also highlights the flawed system of choosing the highly-favored Bachelet as being made “in the same secretive, male-dominated, patronage-ridden, dangerously outmoded way that all senior appointments at the UN are made.”

Donovan further clarifies, “There will be rejoicing that in this instance, a dreadful process resulted in a great outcome, and deep concern that people not see a cause-and-effect relationship between the process and the outcome.”

None of this quells the obvious anticipation and wealth of opportunity due to finally having a strong, unified body lead on women’s issues at the UN. Yet one question on everyone’s mind is: Now that UN Women has been created, will it also be properly funded so as to ensure true change?

In a rousing statement, the GEAR Campaign shares their current hope for UN Women after the appointment of Michelle Bachelet. “This landmark decision comes at a critical juncture as the UN reforms its internal systems and has recently been seen as an exhausted and under-resourced international institution. UN Women can provide new vision and hope and will need to bridge governments and civil society as we progress into the 21st century and the GEAR Campaign will be there to support its leadership and maintain visibility throughout the transitional period and beyond.”

Monday, September 20 begins the UN Summit, a high-plenary meeting in New York City to assess the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Read Part 2 and Part 3 of Kate Stence's UN Women and MDGs.

Photo credit: Casa de America