Issue Brief #1 UN Women: A Stronger Voice for Half the World The United Nations General Assembly's creation this month of an organization focused on accelerating gender equality and women's empowerment aims to overcome serious challenges - including fragmentation and inadequate funding - that have hobbled past initiatives. UN Women will serve as a focal point to amplify the work of a broad range of UN organizations, sharpen their focus, and help hold them accountable for progress. The move "does more than consolidate United Nations offices, it consolidates United Nations strengths," said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon following the General Assembly action, which was agreed to unanimously. "UN Women will significantly boost UN efforts to promote gender equality, expand opportunity, and tackle discrimination around the globe." The Secretary-General is expected to name an Under-Secretary-General to head UN Women expected by year-end, and pledged the recruitment process would be open, transparent and rigorous. The historic step is the latest in more than 60 years of work enunciated in the UN Charter, which "reaffirm[ed] faith. . . in the equal rights of men and women." Despite that, "of the original 51 Member States, only 30 allowed women equal voting rights, or permitted them to hold public office," noted Under-Secretary-General Kiyotaka Akasaka. After focusing initially on basic legal and civil rights, the UN turned to a series of conferences culminating in the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in 1995. The creation of UN Women to more effectively pursue the agenda for empowerment set forth in Beijing is another step toward achieving the vision of "we the peoples of the United Nations" set forth in the Charter. In a joint statement, the leaders of the four organizations merging to form UN Women predicted the new organization "will be a dynamic and strong champion for women and girls around the world, providing them with a powerful voice at the global, regional and local levels." The Executive Director of the UN Population Fund, which is not part of the merger, emphasized the complementary roles of her organization and UN Women. UNFPA - like the UN Development Program, the World Food Program, and other agencies - will continue its field work and distinct focus on sexual and reproductive health, population and development. It "will also seek to gain from, and use UN Women's knowledge base to strengthen and inform [its] capacities," said Thoraya Ahmed Obaid. The new organization will seek voluntary contributions to fund its work. In describing its mission, UN Women cites facts and figures that emphasize the need for "a powerful voice for women and girls worldwide," including: Women and girls make up the majority of the world's poor, and bear disproportionate responsibility for care-giving and other unpaid work that impedes their participation in education, the workplace and public life. Outside the home, women earn 17 percent less than men, and fill the ranks of low-paid and low-status jobs that leave them particularly vulnerable to economic downturns. Nearly two-thirds of the 776 million illiterate adults in the world are women. Violence kills and maims more women age 15-44 than war, malaria, cancer and traffic accidents combined. Rape is being used as a weapon of war against women and girls as never before, with devastating consequences both for individual victims and entire communities. For answers to FAQs about UN Women, please click here. For the General Assembly resolution creating UN Women, please click here. For the Secretary-General's recommendations to the General Assembly, please click here.
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