On 24 February 2011, the United Nations’ celebrated the historic launch of UN Women, its newest organization, with a full evening of remarks, music, and film in the United Nations General Assembly Hall. UN Women, formally known as the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, builds on a strong foundation by merging four previous UN agencies and offices: the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues, and the UN International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (UN-INSTRAW).
“The decision to establish UN Women reflects global concern with the slow pace of change,” said Ms. Bachelet, Under-Secretary-General and UN Women Executive Director. “It is no longer acceptable to live in a world where young girls are taken out of school and forced into early marriage, where women’s employment opportunities are limited, and where the threat of gender-based violence is a daily reality — at home, in the street, at school and at work.”
Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, pledged his support to UN Women, and stated that, “The United Nations is investing in women because it is the right thing to do and because it is a smart thing to do – possibly one of the smartest things we can ever do.”
H.R.H. Princess Cristina of Spain, in her capacity as President of the Institute of Health of Barcelona, urged for broader understanding of how an investment in women is an investment in families, communities and nations. Citing uneven progress on aspects of the Millennium Development Goals such as reduced maternal mortality, she called on “all stakeholders and champions — governments, foundations, the private sector, civil society, academic institutions and individuals — to invest in women’s empowerment as an instrumental strategy to achieve the MDGs.”
Other speakers included UN Women Goodwill Ambassador and Academy-Award winner, Nicole Kidman; CNN founder and Chairman of the UN Foundation, Ted Turner; UN General Assembly President Joseph Deiss; the President of the UN Women Executive Board and former Foreign Minister of Nigeria, Ambassador Joy Ogwu; Academy Award winner and Founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media, Geena Davis; singer Shakira; Nepalese activist Bandana Rana and former Commander of the all-female Formed Police Unit in Liberia Rakhi Sahi.
UN Women represents the UN’s most ambitious effort ever to accelerate actions to achieve gender equality and will support countries in moving towards gender equality in economics and politics, and ending the worldwide phenomenon of violence against women. It will assist in setting international standards for progress, and lead coordinated UN efforts to make new opportunities for women and girls central to all UN programmes for development and peace.
UN Women is the global champion for girls and women and focuses on five priority areas:
- Increasing women’s leadership and participation;
- Ending violence against women and girls;
- Engaging women in all aspects of peace and security processes;
- Enhancing women’s economic empowerment;
- Making gender equality central to national development planning and budgeting.
“At the launch of UN Women, I felt a swell of hope in the room,” said Jill Sheffield, President of Women Deliver. “Everyone seemed to agree and repeat that women’s rights are human rights, and that women’s health is critically important to the betterment of the world.”