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Women & the United Nations
in the words of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, we should aim to ‘create the future we want’.1
In a joint statement to the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development in April this year, the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Co-ordination said that we have witnessed a redesign of the global, political and economic landscape, with a new set of pace-setters and change-makers, including women and youth, and that broad progress has been made in many regions, including the setting of the Millennium Development Goals.2
The UN is taking stock of a new and interconnected global landscape, which presents new and growing challenges and a need for review. This paper will initially discuss the foundation-stones of the UN to provide a framework to follow, with particular reference to UN reform and the creation of UN Women, which emerged from the recommendations of the 2006 High-Level Panel on System-Wide Coherence as outlined in the report Delivering as One.3
In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, said: 'Beneath the surface of states and nations, ideas and language, lies the fate of individual human beings in need. Answering their needs will be the mission of the United Nations in the century to come.' In his acceptance speech to the General Assembly upon election, United Nations Secretary-General-elect, Ban Ki-moon, said that the 'true measure of the success for the United Nations is not how much we promise, but how much we deliver for those who need us most'.4
These, I believe, are ideal goals worthy of pursuing. They serve as a ‘reality check’ in our complex 21st-century world environment, which has become more demanding of the UN. These sentiments can also be linked back to the original UN ideals and precepts, of which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the landmark doctrine. The UN is an international organisation of 193 sovereign states, having grown some 142 since its foundation. It has a complex division of operational responsibilities, and is the only universal multilateral organisation in the world.5 This unique institution was founded after World War II to maintain international security and peace, to develop friendly relations among nations, to promote social progress, to raise living standards, and to pursue human rights.
Human rights advocate Jessie Street was the only female member of the Australian delegation, and she worked actively with women from other delegations to ensure that ‘the equal rights of men and women’ was inserted into the preamble to the UN Charter.6 The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 1948 ‘as a common standard of achievement for all’.7 It affirms: ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights’. It further states: ‘Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status’.8
Distinguished Australian, Dr Herbert V Evatt, President of the UN General Assembly from 1948 to 1949, helped to draft this landmark document. He said that the Declaration ‘will remain a dead letter if the people are unfamiliar with it, or uninterested in it; but it can become effective if the people stand behind it and insist that the principles in it are observed by themselves and all others’.9
At this year’s HV Evatt Foundation Memorial Dinner, Australian Senator John Faulkner recalled that in 1945, representatives of the governments of the world crossed the globe to San Francisco to attend the United Nations Conference on International Organization. Senator Faulkner said that the leap of faith they made dwarfed the length of their journey, and culminated in the creation of the United Nations.10 To follow, was a post World War II ‘New World’. On United Nations Day last year, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said:
The world has made remarkable progress since the United Nations was born some 66 years ago … More and more of us live at peace, under democratic rule of law … people everywhere are standing up for their rights and human freedoms. However, too many people believe their governments and the global economy can no longer deliver for them. In these turbulent times, there is only one answer: unity of purpose. Global problems demand global solutions.Never has the UN been so needed … let us unite seven billion strong in the name of the global common good.11
As we move through the 21st century, the world has become more interdependent and interconnected. Human habits and lifestyles have changed. Changes in the workplace and in the way we communicate are reflected in the gadgets we now use. We are much more globally aware.
Australian academic Nicholas Brown has argued, however, that the post–World War II period was a period of adjustment characterised by ‘complexity, frustration and transition’.12 He asserted that the social guardians and critics of the pre-war years became increasingly uncomfortable with the post-war changes, resulting in affluence, materialism and social mobility. Australian academic, Professor Geoffrey Sherington, has sugested that Australian citizenship development ,began to incorporate new themes and concepts In the 1950s, associated with the rise of the welfare state and world trends.13 There was a coalescing of society with respect to post-war reconstruction concerns, which weakened and reduced class and gender divides, and the question of citizenship became one of cultural adjustment for the individual.
More recently, Professor Rorden Wilkinson (University of Manchester) refers to ‘the new vigour of civil society [which] reflects a large increase in the capacity and will of people to take control of their own lives’, and states that the number and proportion of people who can make their voices heard is … vastly greater in all parts of the world today than in 1945. This is principally the product of decolonization, economic improvement, and the spread of democracy’.14 Mass migration is largely a 20th century phenomenon, spurred by war, decolonisation, immigrant labour and economic opportunity, all of which have charged hosting societies to review the civic life of their nation.
In 1994, former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating initiated a Civics Expert Group to develop a strategic plan to enable all Australians to participate more effectively in the nation’s civic life.15 The group reported that it was no longer possible to assume the old values that once united the Australia community; indeed, diversity had become a hallmark of strength.16 Australian governance has adapted and recognised the need to gauge the nation’s civic sensitivities.
I will now briefly illustrate how ‘governance in action’ has parallels in UN reform through initiatives and practical expression at the grassroots level, which can ultimately impact upon meeting the needs of minority groups, including women.
Governance in action: a practical approach to UN reform
Governance can occur at various levels of social activity, from the village or local council to the state or international fora. Whenever human beings or social groups interact for extended periods, they establish a structure consisting of rules, norms and institutions. Governance is particularly significant in providing order, certainty and stability, as perceived by the most powerful actors.17
Anxiety abounds, however, about the way in which governance is exercised within nations and across the world. Though local governance can prove effective in building a better world community – a global world where, if accessible, social media, the internet and advancements in the integration of technology make it possible for global citizens to unite in realising UN ideals.
The UN has recently taken positive steps to upgrade information and communications technologies. In May this year, more than 1000 representatives of government, civil society and the private sector attended a UN forum in Geneva designed to help countries more effectively harness the power of information and communications technologies to accelerate their progress towards globally agreed development targets.18
I have personally been involved through the UN at an international level to improve the life chances of disadvantaged people in Pakistan, Kenya, Tanzania and Nigeria, where I am a board member of a rural community. I have used the wonders of modern technology to work with others scattered across the globe to produce strategic plans and proposals on ways to improve opportunities for women and youth. Just prior to coming here, I received a publication from Tanzania where I am on a working group run by a former academic with whom I share University of Sydney alumni. The book, ‘Smiles’, contained a range of uplifting photographs of happy villagers whose quality of life has been improved through creative solutions to common global challenges and well managed grassroots efforts.
Closer to home, I will now briefly illustrate how ‘good’ local governance in action in Australia has proved most effective in reinforcing UN ideals and creating a more secure and cohesive environment for minority groups unfamiliar with aspects of Australian traditional way of life.
At Sydney’s famous Bondi Beach, where visitors dip in the ocean as a rite of passage, of the 2500 annual rescues, some 80 per cent are of foreign visitors or migrants unfamiliar with this aspect of the traditional Australian way of life. To address this issue, lifesavers from the Bondi Surf Club, an Australian icon and the first official surf lifesaving club in the world, joined together with members of the local Waverley Council Multicultural Advisory Committee to successfully run a Migration to Surf Program aimed at enabling new settlers to Australian shores to participate positively in the community and helping to save lives. With the hot summer sun of Sydney, the Cancer Council New South Wales also familiarised participants with how best to avoid skin cancer.
For the Bondi Surf Club, the initiative reinforced the sentiments expressed in the club’s 50-year anniversary annual Report (1956): ‘… in [the surf lifesaving movement] we see democracy function as it was meant to be. There are no barriers of creed, class or colour. All these things are forgotten in the wonderful spirit of humanitarian mateship’.19 The program was featured on Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) World Wide News Service.20 Interviews with both organisers and participants were also broadcast across all 68 SBS radio stations.(played the SBS National News Coverage, including Bondi Beach Program in action and interviews with participants and myself). The program’s great success was reported in both organisations’ annual reports. Waverley Council Multicultural Advisory Committee reported: ‘The program went really well. It was covered by local media and also was showed on a news program. Bondi Surf Life Saving Club said they…were committed to doing it each year. This is a great outcome.’21
The program’s success centred on innovation and partnership. It demonstrates how a deep commitment to improving civic life in the local community can contribute towards ultimately building a more cohesive and harmonious global environment. The initiatives illustrate the dynamic nature of effective and responsive good governance at work in local communities. The guiding principle is human rights and equal opportunity principles, realised by global citizens, as espoused by the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
Recently in the Australian Parliament, human rights and the pursuit of UN ideals were bought into sharper focus, with all new laws to be checked for compliance with UN human rights obligations and in a sense as delivering as one. As a means of accountability and transparency, members of Parliament who present a Bill will complete a statement of its compatibility with human rights guidelines. The statement will assess the Bill against each of the seven main UN treaties to which Australia is a party. The Bill will then go before the new human rights joint Parliamentary committee set up specifically to scrutinise legislation for consistency with human rights obligations. According to Australian Attorney-General Nicola Roxon, ‘Our focus is on ensuring that key principles of freedom, respect, equality, dignity and a fair go for all Australians are considered in everything the Commonwealth Parliament does.’22 This illustrates initiative on the part of a sovereign state to efficiently and effectively fulfil its commitment to UN principles.
I will now discuss the emergence of UN Women as a vehicle for UN reform within the context of the Delivering as One Report.
UN women, gender equality and empowerment
UN Women is the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and is largely a product of the recommendations of the 2006 High-Level Panel on System-Wide Coherence, as outlined in the report Delivering as One. This report was designed ‘to enhance co-ordination between normative UN organizations, specialized organizations and civil societies, and the country level UN programs’.23 It stated: ‘we have … seen how the UN’s work on development and environment is often fragmented and weak. Inefficient and ineffective governance and unpredictable funding have contributed to policy incoherence, duplication and operational ineffectiveness across the system’.24
The report contained a number of recommendations to ‘overcome the fragmentation of the United Nations so that the system can deliver as one, in true partnership with and serving the needs of all countries in their efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and other internationally agreed development goals’.25 It also noted that, despite the UN’s ‘unique legitimacy, including the universality of its membership, the UN’s status as a central actor in the multilateral system is underminded by lack of focus on results, thereby failing, more than anyone else, the poorest and most vulnerable’.26
As a key to effective development, the report recommended the establishment of one dynamic UN entity focused on gender equality and women’s empowerment.
We consider gender equality to be central to the delivery of effective development outcomes, and the Secretary-General tasked us with a specific mandate to suggest radical changes to improve performance. We therefore propose a steep change in the UN’s delivery of gender equality and women’s empowerment, by:
- Consolidating the three existing UN entities into an enhanced and independent gender entity, headed by an Executive Director with the rank of Under Secretary-General, appointed through a meritocratic competition demonstrably open to those outside the UN
- The gender entity would have a strengthened normative and advocacy role combined with a targeted programming role
- The gender entity must be fully and ambitiously funded
- Gender equality would be a component of all UN One Country Programs
- The commitment to gender equality is and should remain the mandate of the entire UN system.27
The creation of UN Women grew out of the UN reform agenda. It is grounded in the vision of equality and thus has its ultimate foundations in the UN Charter. UN Women is committed to the advancement of women’s human rights. Its structure provides a voice at the global, regional and local levels for women and girls. It amalgamates resources for greater impact and builds on the important work of its four distinct predecessor branches of the UN system, which focused exclusively on gender equality and women’s empowerment: (1) the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW); (2) the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW); (3) the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI); (4) the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).28
UN Women and its work are considered a vehicle to more effective co-ordination, coherence and gender mainstreaming across the UN system. In its founding Resolution 64/289, the UN General Assembly decided that UN Women should provide, through its normative support functions and operational activities, guidance and technical support to all member states, at their request, on gender mainstreaming, gender equality and the empowerment of women in the formulation of policies, global standards and norms.29 As per UN General Assembly Resolution 64/289, the organisation is governed by a multi-tiered intergovernmental governance structure as follows:
(a) … the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the Commission on the Status of Women shall constitute the multi-tiered intergovernmental governance structure for the normative support functions and shall provide normative policy guidance to the Entity;
(b) … the General Assembly, the ECOSOC and the Executive Board of the Entity shall constitute the multi-tiered intergovernmental structure for the operational activities and shall provide operational policy guidance to the Entity.30
The Executive Board was mandated with setting up UN Women. This board oversees the organisation’s operational activities based on policy directions set by the UN General Assembly, ECOSOC and the Commission on the Status of Women.
On 14 September 2010, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the appointment of Ms Michelle Bachelet as Executive Director and Under-Secretary-General of UN Women. The Under-Secretary-General is a member of all senior UN decision-making bodies and reports to the Secretary-General. This reflects the high esteem of UN Women within the organisation.31 At the 10th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, US Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, said she was delighted with the appointment of Ms Bachelet as the first head of UN Women, being a dedicated advocate for women’s rights and participation.32 Secretary Clinton also mentioned that US President Barack Obama’s National Security Strategy recognises that ‘countries are more peaceful and prosperous when women are accorded full and equal rights and opportunities. When those rights and opportunities are denied, countries lag behind’.33
On 11 March 2011, Lakshmi Puri of India was appointed Assistant Secretary-General for Intergovernmental Support and Strategic Partnerships, and John Hendra of Canada was appointed Assistant Secretary-General for Policy and Program at UN Women. They serve as the two deputies to the Executive Director.34 Ms Puri is responsible for the leadership and management of the bureau supporting intergovernmental bodies, UN coordination and external relations. Mr Hendra is responsible for the leadership and management of the bureau supporting policy analysis, research and training, program management and oversight.35
Charged with overseeing the implementation of UN Women, Executive Director Bachelet has strategically upheld championing equal rights and opportunities. As an effective leader, she has cultivated and shaped change as well as driven reform. She has helped set the standard for performance and displayed the capacity to give meaningful direction in recognising the need to address fragmentation as set out in Delivering as One – a central theme of the report.
Systematically reinforcing such sentiment, Ms Puri last year participated in UN Women Australia’s inaugural Summit Accelerating Gender Equality: Introducing UN Women, held at the University of Sydney, Australia. I attended this event and can report that perspectives were shared on women’s empowerment and gender equality, shedding light on some of the challenges facing women both nationally and internationally.36
UN Women is one of a number of UN agencies charged with supporting countries in moving forward on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which provide a basic road map for development. The eight goals, adopted by the international community in 2000, set targets for 2015 on eradicating poverty, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV and AIDS and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability, and providing finance for development. All eight MDGs touch essential aspects of women’s wellbeing. In turn, women’s empowerment is critical for attaining the goals.
UN Women has engaged in advancing the MDGs through three entry points.
- Operational programs: In all regions and through all its thematic areas, UN Women programs contribute to the MDGs. UN Women pilots innovative strategies and strengthens the capacity of other UN programs to support women’s advancement.
- Monitoring and analysis: UN Women works with government and non-government organisations to evaluate progress towards the MDGs, including through the use of sex-disaggregated data and indicators that fully account for gender gaps. UN Women also contributed to the UN Millennium Project, commissioned by the UN Secretary-General to develop an action plan to achieve the MDGs, by preparing background papers and sharing proven strategies.
- Advocacy: Through various partnerships, UN Women has worked to raise awareness and encourage participation in MDG activities, including the national and international advocacy efforts led by the UN Millennium Campaign.37
In September 2011, the 66th General Debate of the UN General Assembly concluded with a firm commitment by world leaders to gender equality. Nigerian President, HE Mr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, said that Nigeria’s substantial support for UN Women reflected ‘our desire to harness the potentials of women in the task of nation building’. Emphasising the importance of international efforts to achieve gender equality, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced that it would provide funding of US$5 million to UN Women. ‘The UAE sees the importance of supporting international efforts in the field of women’s empowerment,’ UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs HH Sheikh Abdullah said. The Foreign Minister of Tunisia announced that the country had withdrawn all reservations to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and adopted a mandatory parity system for its upcoming Constituent Assembly elections. Several countries highlighted national measures to increase gender equality. The Vice-President of Liberia drew attention to a new national gender policy, while the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea noted that the PNG government recently passed the first vote on a parliamentary Bill reserving seats for women in the 2012 elections.38
UN Women Australia is the National Committee for UN Women in Australia, one of 18 National Committees globally. The National Committees support UN Women by running membership programs, raising public awareness of gender and development issues and fundraising for UN Women projects around the world.39
Since its inception in 1989, UN Women Australia has expanded and now includes a national office in Canberra as well as volunteer sub-committees, International Women’s Day committees and Young UN Women Australia chapters. The UN Women Australia Sydney Chapter, where I serve as Deputy Chair, is responsible for UN Women Australia activities in the local area and has experienced rapid expansion.
Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr recently announced that, from 1 January 2013, Australia and the Solomon Islands would both take up seats on the UN Women Executive Board, providing a unique opportunity to increase the profile of issues facing women in the Pacific. Senator Carr said that, when he met with UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet, he ‘reaffirmed Australia’s commitment to the cause of gender equality’. He also announced that UN Women Australia would receive a A$16.5 million funding boost.40
Moreover, UN Women looks to strengthen the multilateral institutional framework of global governance, particularly global economic governance. The World Bank Gender Action Plan serves to advance women’s and girls’ economic empowerment to promote growth, as well as Millennium Development Goal No. 3 – gender equality and women’s empowerment. Expanding women’s and girls’ economic opportunities is considered smart economics.
Gender Equality as Smart Economics was a US$63 million action plan to increase World Bank Group work to empower women economically.41 The four-year plan was launched in 2007 with budget support from both the World Bank and external partners, and targeted women’s empowerment in economic sectors, most importantly infrastructure, energy transport and water and sanitation, agriculture private sector development and finance. In today’s globalised world, it was stated in the World Bank Development Report, forces such as trade openness and the spread of information and communication technologies have the potential to reduce gender disparities by connecting women to markets and economic opportunities.42
In May 2011, the first UN Women strategic plan, for 2011–2013, was released. This followed consultation with approximately 5000 partners, including national government civil society and academia, as well as UN and other international organisations. The aim of the plan is to build on the momentum for action generated by milestones marked in 2009 and 2010, including the anniversaries of the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Millennium Declaration, as well as Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security and the review of progress towards the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action.43
The plan also sets out to support member states in closing the persisting implementation gaps between these global normative and policy commitments and women’s daily realities, within the context of national priorities and in partnership with other stakeholders.
As noted in the Under-Secretary General/Executive Director’s Vision and 100-Day Action Plan, five thematic priorities, as well as the normative support function of UN-Women, drive the development results framework (DRF) in the strategic plan. UN-Women is also guided by a set of internal institutional priorities that will ensure that it has the capacity to deliver on its mandate. Although the time-frame of the strategic plan is 2011-2013, the programmatic priorities extend well beyond 2013, and will most likely continue to be reflected in the next programming period since they derive from country-defined results, inter-governmental outcomes and norms and standards on gender equality.44
UN Women commemorated its first anniversary in January 2012, with some 114 governments contributing to core funds in 2011, resulting in a 73 per cent increase in core funding compared to the combined budget of its four predecessors in the previous year. The entity’s total income target for 2012–13 is set at US$700 million.
UN Women relies extensively on voluntary contributions. While Spain and the United Kingdom remain its most substantial contributors, several donors – including Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, India, the Republic of Korea, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates – registered substantial increases in UN Women funding globally.45
The effectiveness of restructuring the various women’s agencies into UN Women and adapting of the Delivering as One recommendations has proved effective in securing increased funding.
In April this year the UN Chief Executives Board for Co-ordination adopted a landmark System-Wide Action Plan (UN-SWAP) on gender equality and women’s empowerment to be applied throughout the UN system. The UN will now have a set of common measures with which to monitor progress in its gender-related work. This will include mainstreaming of the gender perspective across all its operations.46
One key aspect of UN Women’s mandate is to guide the system’s co-ordination on gender. The UN-SWAP, as an accountability framework, will allow UN Women to deliver on this. Throughout 2012 the various UN agencies will continue to align their performance indicators on gender equality, along with their policies and work processes.47
Speaking at the meeting of the Board, Executive Director Bachelet celebrated the ground-breaking launch of the tool and reiterated the need for its full and fast implementation. She also urged that, as a first and critical test, gender equality and women’s empowerment be highlighted as a priority in the final outcome document at Rio+20 in June 2012, as well as in any agreements on the Sustainable Development Goals and the post-Millennium Development Goal agenda in 2015. ‘This is something that UN Women cannot do alone and for which we will need to deliver as one,’ she said.48
UN future: a glass half full
In summing up, the sentiments of Professor Thomas Weiss are most appropriate:
UN institutions are obviously not without problems; and implementations lag far behind rhetoric. But the fact that human values are emphasized and sometimes are placed ahead of economic concerns and market efficiency is far from trivial. One undoubtedly can imagine a world without such concerns. But it would be much poorer and much less human than the one to which the UN aspires and that at its best contributes to and achieves.49
Today the UN is vast, with many agencies and institutions. Like any corporation or business, it periodically requires reassessment and restructuring. To stay relevant in the 21st century the UN needs to adapt, reposition and reciprocate. Inherently, it must be accountable, transparent, competent and effective. To this end the UN continues to reform and focus on delivering sustained global improvement through initiatives, including setting the Millennium Development Goals and moving forward on the Delivering as One Report.
This work illustrates how good governance can play a key role in facilitating reform when focused on promoting UN ideals. The establishment of UN Women through initiative, effective governance and implementation of efficient structural change reaffirms the UN’s commitment to the pursuit of gender equality and identity.
Recommendations contained in the Delivering as One Report paved the way for UN Women to develop a unified, co-ordinated and coherent structure to achieve its goals. The UN has provided a unique platform for international action. In turn, the UN has served as a tool in promoting the recognition of women’s fundamental human rights and in fostering greater understanding of the central role played by women in global economic and social development.
It should not be overlooked, as pointed out by Australian Professor Glen Maberly, that we can see things differently depending on our past and current experiences – where we sit – and what we do. This can be our weakness, but if we listen carefully to each other it can also be our strength. This is the value of partnership. This is evident at the grassroots level with the success of the Bondi Migration to Surf Program. It is particularly relevant today as we live in an interdependent and interconnected world environment where our future is bound up with us working harmoniously together. The UN has the unique capacity to foster co-operation and partnership to address 21st century global challenges and in creating a fairer and more peaceful world environment.
It should also not be overlooked that the world has become a global village and is now populated with global citizens. Global corporations and the rising economic powers of East Asia provide a new mix of political and economic relationships on the world stage. Sometimes in achieving the economic dream and following the economic imperative, communities can lose sight of basic human principles, such as human rights and the fundamental democratic freedoms, the less fortunate are denied.
It is sometimes easy to forget that in the rush to be more efficient and effective, real reform starts at the basic needs level, from where it will ripple out, not just materially but by measures of newfound hope, confidence and freedom. The practice of goodwill, aiding one’s neighbour, working in partnership and extending a helping hand all contribute to building a more democratic and harmonious world environment where human rights are respected. Helping out in times of need and creating a better world for each other is what we in Australia call ‘humanitarian mateship’ – the embodiment of UN ideals.
This paper was presented to the Academic Council on United Nations System Annual Meeting held at the City of University of New York on 13-15 June 2012, entitled: 'New norms, new actors, a new United Nations? Continuity and change. Dr Patricia Jenkings is a former political adviser and a member of the Evatt Foundation.