United Nations Creates "UN Women" To Focus On Women's Issues Around The World

Last Friday, the United Nations general assembly unanimously voted to approve UN Women, an agency that will launch in January of 2011 and focus solely on issues surrounding the women of the world.

According to Nina Lakhani and David Randall of The Independent, UN Women, a consolidation of four women's agencies already functioning under the UN umbrella, will "have a high-level leader, probably twice the $250m annual budget now allocated to gender issues, and will be tasked with challenging governments on women's plights and rights." According to Neil MacFarquhar of the New York Times, Michelle Bachelet, former president of Chile, is an early favorite for the leadership position, as the agency is looking "for someone seen as an international star from 'the south,' so as not to give the impression that the Western world is thrusting its concept of women's rights on the rest."

Combining the existing four women and gender based agencies into one super agency took four years, according to Reuters, due to the fact that "negotiations between Western developed nations and developing countries, many of them states where women are often discriminated against, had been tough because of varying views on women's rights and gender equality." There is a hope that combining the four, and giving the agency a high-profile leader (and, according to the Independent, "probably twice the $250m annual budget now allocated to gender issues") will create a stronger voice for women across the world.

MacFarquhar also points out that the name of the agency is already causing trouble, as its official title, "United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women," sounds rather unpleasant when shortened to "Unegeew," and that there is something slightly off-putting about naming the organization "UN Women," as it does sort of carry a pink-it-and-shrink-it connotation in some ways, though it's hard to come up with something that isn't as clear in terms of what the agency's main focus would be (the French have reportedly suggested "ONU Femmes") and U.N. Women is much better than say, "United Nations: Strong Enough For Him, But PH Balanced For Your World Issues Edition."

Thankfully, there are better things to focus on than the agency's official title, which will surely be worked out by January: the prospect of a U.N. force devoted to giving women a stronger voice in the world is tremendously exciting, and one hopes that the agency's mission, which, according to Lakhani and Randall, is to "press hard for women to have a more widespread and prominent role in politics, and also try to reduce some of the world's more glaring discriminations. These include lack of access to health and education, forced marriages, rape, female circumcision, and trafficking," will be carried out and celebrated by women (and men) across the globe. As the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon put it: "'UN Women is recognition of a simple truth: equality for women is a basic human right and a social and economic imperative."

UN Celebrates "A Watershed Day For Women" [The Independent]
A U.N. Agency For Women? Yes! But Those Names... [NYTimes]
U.N. Creates New Body On Women, Gender Equality [Reuters]