The UN’s new agency – UN Women – is slowly cranking into gear. But while it has a dynamic leader, a shiny new logo – a pictorial blend of a female gender symbol and the UN’s global map – and a launch party scheduled for later this month, it still lacks proper funding.
There’s a lot of hope and quite a bit of fanfare surrounding this mission. It is widely agreed by UN member countries that the organisation has done little for women and gender equality in the developing world, and that a high-profile agency with real clout and global impact is long overdue.
UN Women aims to help formulate new policies and global standards on equality and women’s rights and to monitor and support member countries in their efforts to meet those standards. A lot of thought has gone into the image of the new agency, which brings together four smaller units – UNIFEM, CEDAW, INSTRAW, OSAGI – all of which have been targeting women’s issues for years but are not widely known.
The UN has broken from its tradition of naming organisations with acronyms. Technically this is the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. “UN Women”, however, states its purpose much more powerfully, and will probably register with more people than “UNEGEEW”.
The head of this new entity, former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, is widely respected in the international community and has the rank of under-secretary general, meaning she will have a seat at the highest UN tables.
“This is about leadership. And about articulating what we do much more clearly,” says Moez Doraid, UN Women’s interim head of operations. It is also about making the UN more efficient. “In this era of financial crisis, this is as much about consolidation as it is about creating something new,” he says. The agency was created with the unanimous support of UN member countries after decades of debate, and it has a $500m (€366m) budget for its inaugural year.
Only three per cent of that comes from the UN – the rest has been pledged voluntarily by 100 countries, with Spain, Norway the UK, US, Canada and Sweden being the most generous. Much of the funding is yet to arrive but when it does, $500m looks rather measly. UN Women will still be tiny compared to the major UN agencies such as Unicef (which had a budget of $3.25bn/€2.3bn in 2009) and UNDP (which had $4.77bn/€3.50bn the same year).
It remains to be seen if the rebrand we’ve seen so far can produce the desired results without a bigger injection of cash.