New UN body promotes equality

On July 2 of this year, the United Nations (UN) took steps to amalgamate a group of already exiting initiatives relating to the empowerment of women worldwide by creating UN Women, a body dedicated exclusively to the issue.

“Development depends on policies and resources that are available in individual states,” said Rhoda Howard-Hassmann, Laurier global studies professor and Canadian Research Chair in international human rights.

Howard-Hassmann pointed out that drastic change to women’s issues will not result simply from the formation of one organization.

She did however add, “Centralizing all these different agencies and giving them a higher profile would be a good idea.”

The UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, or UN Women as it is being called, has merged and built upon four different parts of the UN system.

It will oversee and work to empower the initiatives of the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW), the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI) and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).

Laurier sociology professor and co-ordiantor for the women and gender studies department Juanne Clarke stressed the importance of the empowerment of women at all levels of society.
Clarke said women’s empowerment is groundbreaking “not only for the family and the next generation but also for the development of the whole country.”

UN Women sees gender equality as a basic human right with enormous socio-economic ramifications.

Howard-Hassmann explained that although the UN is making progress in promoting women’s issues such as education, maternal health and in more recent years, violence against women, there are still areas that need to be addressed.

“Women have to have access to safe and legal abortions,” said Howard-Hassmann, adding that the policies that currently come close to supporting this issue are those that advocate equal rights in family planning.

The second key issue that she believes requires international focus is for the rights of gays and lesbians.

“There is some movement among international jurists to protect gay and lesbian rights but there is still no international law,” she said.

UN Women will formulate policies, global standards and norms, implement a mandate that surrounds these standards, provide technical and financial support for UN member states and monitor the progress of an overarching mandate.

The initiative undertakes an infinite number of issues relating to women and health, employment, education and human rights, to name a few. However, Clarke points out the lack of infrastructure that lies between UN Women and its mandate.

“In political situations with instability and that are based on patriarchy and often endemic corruption, developing a common good a notion of common good and infrastructure that would support the common good is a slow and uphill battle,” she said.

Howard-Hassmann echoed the struggle in making progress in women’s issues, stating that when UN Women becomes operational in January 2011, it will provide “more than the UN has now with all these dispersed and not very well-known groups on women… It’s going to have a much higher profile, but it’s not going to have a huge impact.”

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