Celebrations and frustrations at the United Nations: or how I was unable to come up with a clever title

In a particularly debbie downer moment I once blurted out to my old roommate, “It’s a shame that gender equality will never be attained while I’m alive…I wish it was a trendier movement…like the environmental movement.” We had just listened to an interesting lecture on community farming. So, I had really turned a positive into a negative, and of course, truthfully I think that social and environmental justice movements are all interconnected (I mean I’m sure Treebeard’s ex-wife would have something to say about feminism and the fact that all the female Ents were called Entwives).  My pragmatic roommate fired back that I was being silly and that there is progress everywhere. Case in point: A new United Nations entity was created this year with the focus of working for the empowerment of women and girls around the world.  Holy Schlmoly how did that fly under my radar.  Maybe because a lot of us don’t actually understand what the UN does, and the fact that the following quotation always pops into my mind when I read about the UN:

Reporter: How many people work at the UN?
Kofi Annan: About half of them.

I’m not sure if he actually said that but you get the sentiment. So, anyways, I figured I might as well stop being a patty pessimist and see if I can pinpoint what “UN Women” is all about:

  • According to the UN Women or the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women’s website the group was created in July 2010
  • A number of people think the name sounds ridiculous. The French prefer their translation of ONU Femmes. “…just sounds so much better than ‘unwomen.’”
  • UN Women “will merge and build on the important work of four previously distinct parts of the UN system which focus exclusively on gender equality and women’s empowerment.” This, I like, because it’s a lot easier to point towards one international group when it comes to organizing and funding and large efforts of mobilization and education.
  • The budget? At minimum member states have said $500 milion. For some perspective, UNICEF get over 2 billion dollars a year.
  • On September 14th it was announced that Michelle Bachelet, former president of Chile, would be the new Under-Secretary-General for UN Women. Having a women from the Global South as head of this agency is, of course, symbolically important and Bachelet seems to have sound backing from the feminist population. Whether or not she was successful in combatting entrenched sexism in her home country during her time as president.
  • On November 10th, members will be voted on to fill the 41-member executive board. Iran and Saudi Arabia are expected to fill two of the seats. Naturally, human rights groups are wary of this development.

UN Women won’t actually be in operation until January 2011. I am cautiously hopeful about what a large scale international entity can do for the large scale problem that is gender inequality.

One British feminist in a BBC video interview said of the proposed international women’s entity: It’s gotta be big. It’s gotta be resourced. And, it’s gotta be respected.

We have yet to see if UN Women will carry all three traits.

5 Comments on “Celebrations and frustrations at the United Nations: or how I was unable to come up with a clever title”

  • Bort

    Interesting stuff.

  • Samantha

    I always get excited to see friends taking the time to educate themselves on something they question… Thanks for the info Enthusiastic Ellie! (Better than debbie downer)

  • leslie

    I’m listening to an interview with Stephen Lewis on CBC Radio right now talking about how appalling it is that Saudi Arabia and Iran (who allow stoning women to death) as well as Libya and the DRC (arguably the worst place in the world for women) have appointed members to the 41 nation board. He describes it as white-washing, sitting on this board allows these nations to appear they are concerned about women’s rights, while avoiding accountability for the atrocities they commit against them.
    Debbie Downer is back in the house.

  • leslie

    Re-reading the article, I see you have included this detail. Stephen Lewis is just such a compelling man to listen to. I guess his point was that nations that fiercely defend such brutal misogyny are not necessarily entitled to sit at the gender equality table. The idea of the board itself is potentially positive.

  • leslie

    I promise this is my last comment, I keep fact-checking. Seems Stephen Lewis was one of the leaders who initially proposed this Board in 2006. To hear him so angrily frustrated is alarming.

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