The UN: a Global Champion for Women and Girls
March 4, 2010
Empowering women and girls in the developing world is one of the most important and effective means of creating a better world: it affects global health, decreases poverty, protects the environment, and promotes universal human rights. The United Nations has made it one of their priorities to create opportunities for women and girls to live healthily, happily, and safely. In honor of International Women's Day on March 8, and Women's History Month through March, join us in supporting the UN in its efforts to champion women and girls.
UN Priorities for Improving the Lives of Women and Girls
- Promoting economic development: The UN is integrating women’s health and rights into the global development agenda, in conjunction with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Key MDGs include: Goal 2 (“Achieve universal primary education” for girls and boys), Goal 3 (“Promote gender equality and empower women”), Goal 5 (“Improve maternal health”), and Goal 6 (“Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases”).
- Reducing gender-based violence: Gender-based violence both reflects and reinforces inequities between men and women and compromises the health, dignity, security, and autonomy of its victims. It encompasses a wide range of human rights violations, including sexual abuse of children, rape, domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment, trafficking of women and girls, and several harmful traditional practices. In February 2008, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched a multi-year UNiTE campaign to end violence against women and girls through the support of policy makers and by engaging male leaders and mobilizing men and boys.
- Improving women’s health: UN agencies are involved in a wide variety of efforts to help improve the health of women and girls. UNICEF and UNFPA are working on the ground to help reduce maternal mortality, and other UN agencies are finding alternative energy sources to decrease the negative health impact for women gathering firewood in rural areas. In 2003, UNFPA spearheaded the global Campaign to End Fistula, a collaborative initiative to prevent obstetric fistula and restore the health and dignity of those living with its consequences.
- In 1979, the UN developed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), sometimes referred to as the International Bill of Rights for women. It remains the single international treaty instrument that comprehensively defines discrimination against women and girls. As of February 2010, 186 states have ratified or acceded to the treaty, obligating their governments to respect, protect, and ensure the rights of women and girls and to report periodically to the independent UN CEDAW Committee. The United States is the only state to have signed but not ratified CEDAW.
How the UN Promotes Gender Equality
- New Gender Entity: In September 2009, the four UN offices focused on women consolidated into a single body. For the first time, the official leading this agency will report directly to the Secretary-General, giving the issues a stronger voice within the UN system.
- The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was established in 1946. CSW meets annually to examine barriers to women’s full equality and human dignity and determines steps individual countries and the international community can take to overcome such barriers.
- The UN Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) advocates the improvement of the status of women of the world. DAW’s main responsibilities are to support policy-making, global standards, and norms for gender equality and women’s empowerment at the global level.
- The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) was created in 1969 and is the world’s largest international source of funding for population and reproductive health programs. UNFPA receives support from more than 180 countries to carry out its work around the world supporting programs that help women, men, and young people to: plan their families and avoid unwanted pregnancies; undergo pregnancy and childbirth safely; avoid sexually transmitted infections; combat violence against women; and promote the equality of women.
- The UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) provides financial and technical assistance to programs and strategies that foster women and girl’s empowerment and gender equality. UNIFEM focuses on four strategic areas: (1) reducing feminized poverty, (2) ending violence against women, (3) reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS among women and girls, and (4) achieving gender equality in democratic governance in times of peace as well as war. UNIFEM also manages the UN Trust Fund in Support of Actions to Eliminate Violence against Women, which has awarded more than $50 million to 304 initiatives to address violence against women in 121 countries since it began operations in 1997.