The United Nations begins a new decade with a new agency: UNWomen. This is a good thing. Globally, violence against women causes more death and disability among women than cancer, malaria or war. Improving women’s health during pregnancy and childbirth has lagged far behind any of the other development goals that governments agreed to take action on, back in 2000. Women are denied land ownership, credit and decent jobs, simply because they are women. It is time for this to change. While not a cure-all, UN Women will help.
For far too long the United Nations has hidden behind the idea that women’s issues are ‘mainstreamed’. This idea means that everybody within the UN is responsible for paying sufficient attention to women’s strengths, needs and aspirations. Without a powerful UN entity to remind its approximately 63,000 staff about women, the collective UN system has not been able to make the same gains for women that it has for children (thank you, UNICEF) or for HIV (well done, UNAIDS). This is not to say the UN entities for women that did exist did not try. These entities were just too fragmented, poorly-resourced and weakly-positioned to leverage much traction.
So bring on UN Women and bring it on. As one of the many NZers around the world who worked for the creation of a powerful, well-funded UN entity for women, I want to see this work. Let’s see if at last, the UN can deliver for women the way women deliver for their families, communities and countries.