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Reform of the UN Gender Architecture

Following the 1995 UN Beijing conference on women when the ambivalent “gender” concept became the object of an alleged “global consensus”, the normative and operational institutional capacities of the UN and of global governance to advance “gender equality” and empower women were significantly strengthened. Here is the profile of the current gender architecture :

1.- Four “gender-specific entities” :

  • DAW : Division for the Advancement of Women of the UN Secretariat ;
  • OSAGI : Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women, created in 1997 after Beijing and belonging to the UN Secretariat ;
  • UNIFEM : UN Development Fund for Women, created in 1976 after the first UN women’s conference in Mexico ;
  • INSTRAW : UN International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women, also created in 1976.

2.- After Beijing, UN “system-wide gender mainstreaming” took place. As a result, achieving gender equality is now considered as belonging to the “mandate” of all organizations of the UN system (Departments and Offices of the Secretariat, Funds, Programmes and Specialized Agencies).

3.- Also after Beijing, gender units, gender advisers and departmental focal points were established throughout the UN system, including in the Secretariat.

4.- At the UN Regional level, the Regional Commissions of the UN “support” Member States in addressing gender equality issues from the regional and sub-regional perspectives.

5.- At the UN country level, Gender Theme Groups contribute to and monitor gender mainstreaming in the work of the UN Country Teams.

In spite of the impressive gender machinery already in place, the agents of change want to further consolidate it and give it a “recognized driver”, “authority”, leadership capacity, “accountability” and “predictable financial resources”.

The new architecture will have the following features :

  • Seamless effectiveness both at operational level and at the normative level.
  • Analytical, normative and operational leadership.
  • Single driver for gender mainstreaming in the UN system.
  • Level of authority needed to hold all entities accountable for performance.
  • Targeted technical cooperation and capacity-building in line with national strategies.
  • Collaboration between Member States, the UN system and civil society, particularly women’s NGOs and networks.

© 2009 Marguerite A. Peeters
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