Low Expectations for new UN Agency, UN Women.

In what appears to be an unusual effort to reduce (!) bureacracy, the UN General Assembly recently voted unanimously to merge four previously distinct parts of the UN system that focus exclusively on gender equality and women’s empowerment into a new agency simply called UN Women.

Specifically, the merger consists of these parts: Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW), Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI), and United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).

Charlotte Bunch of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University in New Jersey says thatWe have high expectations for this new agency to be a solid foundation for advancing the human rights of women. It’s historic because for the first time the United Nations has created a unified body for women with high-level leadership. But how good it will be depends on the leadership appointed, the resources committed and the support from all U.N. member states and all the other U.N. agencies.

Indeed, the success will depend on both leadership, funding and support from all UN members. Judging from how the UN Human Rights Council has become an instrument for advancing own political agendas while deflecting criticism of your own country, perhaps it is best to temper any optimism regarding UN Women. One year after establishment, the review of the Human Rights Council’s success criticized

  • the pattern of voting in regional blocs, and specifically the reflexes of many in the developing world to draw together defensively to rebuff criticism of even brutal abusers in control of a developing country
  • the tendency to North-South alignments on human rights measures even by democratic governments in developing countries, which undermines substantive gains in protecting human rights
  • the membership procedures, which (…) allow countries with poor human rights records to acquire a seat on the Council with backing by regional groups
  • the Council’s swiftness in repeatedly calling Israel to account for abusive actions in Lebanon and Palestine, while moving with all deliberate speed on other situations. Panelists and participants agreed that the rights of Palestinians in the occupied territories are seriously compromised and deserving of international attention, but criticized the ease with which the Council in its first year has focused single-mindedly on Israel.

UN Women does not yet have a leader (who will be given the formal title of Under-Secretary-General) and is only set to be ready to work starting January 1st 2011. However, I see no reason why UN Women is not also going to be marred by the same problems as the Human Rights Council is. The UN Women FAQ states clearly that “It will be up to each Member State to decide what kind of support UN Women will provide in that country.” And therefore it will also be the prerogative of each member state to tell the body to piss right off.

I would be the last person to grant any UN body legal authority over national affairs. The UN works on a voluntary basis and I would have it no other way. The problem is that the UN has such a high moral star in Europe and government is so transparent that the initiative to shamelessly manipulate the UN as a political tool is lost to dictatorships in poor countries. Because they also command a democratic majority now, the goody-goody-two-shoes in the West are left with nodding in quiet disappointment while organizations such as the OIC advance their radical agendas. But I digress.

Reading the UN’s own gender-related development index (GDI) you would expect UN Women to focus heavily on Africa. The GDI index’ bottom 30 consists almost solely of African nations. Then comes a mishmash of South American, Central Asian and Middle Eastern countries. Only time will tell if UN Women will live up to any expectations of rationality or if they too will simply find a way to spend their time blaming Israel.

A recent UN report stresses that achieving gender equality is vital for achieving development goals overall, and for boosting economic growth and sustainable development. The report happens to focus on South East Asia and points out that discrimination and neglect are threatening women’s very survival in that area, and that many gender-gap indicators are close to or lower than sub-Saharan Africa. Focusing on South East Asia, as needed as it may be, is, however, far from covering  the widespread state of gender inequality in the world today.

In Turkey roughly four out of 10 women are beaten by their husbands. Research also showed that, after the definition of violence, 97% of women said yes to the question “do you face violation”. Here the important thing is the definition and understanding of violation. With time, violation becomes ordinary. According to the results of Population and Health Research in Turkey in 1993, half of all married women think that a man can beat a woman if she deserves it. In the same research, half of women think that a woman should not argue with her husband even if she is right.

In Sweden, despite the number of rapes reported to the police quadrupling over the past 20 years, the percentage of reported rapes ending in conviction is markedly lower today than it was in 1965. Results from the annual, government commissioned National Safety Survey (NTU), which is conducted by the National Council of Crime Prevention (BRÅ), indicate that the actual number of rapes in Sweden in 2006 was estimated to be close to 30,000. Over the past ten years there has been a 58 percent increase in reported sex crimes and according to BRÅ, it is now statistically more likely for a person in Sweden to be sexually assaulted than robbed. Amnesty International slams the Swedish judicial system concluding that, “in practice, many perpetrators enjoy impunity.” 30,000 rapes per year (10 % of which are gang rapes) give Sweden the honour of having six times as many rapes per capita, compared to neighboring Denmark.

In Lebanon, according to the Lebanese Council to Resist Violence Against Women (LCRVAW ), at least 90% of women are, or have been in the past, victims of physical or psychological abuse.  “Only very few of these crimes are reported, because in Lebanon it is considered normal that a woman is beaten by her husband or a relative; therefore judges and policemen often underestimate the problem”.

UN Women could be so good and there is so much for them to do – but I wouldn’t hold my breath.


  1. Some more news from Turkey:

    Quote:"The number of women murdered in a year in Turkey shot up 1,400 percent between 2002 and 2009, according to data recently revealed by the country’s justice minister."
    "For Professor Aysel Çelikel, head of the Support for Contemporary Living Association, or ÇYDD, the high increase in the number of murdered women stems from gender inequality and Turkey’s increasingly conservative society."
    "According to a government study titled “Research on Domestic Violence against Women in Turkey,” 41.9 percent of Turkish women are subjected to physical and sexual violence. Women at a “low-income level” are assaulted at a rate of 49.9 percent, while the number for higher-income women is still high, at 28.7 percent."

Comments are closed.