In the run-up to the United Nations (UN) Day on October 24th and as part of The CSR Journal’s new series aimed at understanding and exploring various bodies and agencies of the UN, let us explore UN Women, the United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women.
A global champion for women and girls, UN Women was established to accelerate progress on meeting their needs worldwide. UN Women supports UN Member States as they set global standards for achieving gender equality, and works with governments and civil society to design laws, policies, programmes and services needed to ensure that the standards are effectively implemented and truly benefit women and girls worldwide.
UN Women works globally to make the vision of the Sustainable Development Goals a reality for women and girls and stands behind women’s equal participation in all aspects of life, focusing on four strategic priorities:
1. Women lead, participate in and benefit equally from governance systems
2. Women have income security, decent work and economic autonomy
3. All women and girls live a life free from all forms of violence
4. Women and girls contribute to and have greater influence in building sustainable peace and resilience, and benefit equally from the prevention of natural disasters and conflicts and humanitarian action
UN Women also coordinates and promotes the UN system’s work in advancing gender equality, and in all deliberations and agreements linked to the 2030 Agenda. The entity works to position gender equality as fundamental to the Sustainable Development Goals, and a more inclusive world.
For many years, the United Nations faced serious challenges in its efforts to promote gender equality globally, including inadequate funding and no single recognized driver to direct UN activities on gender equality issues. In July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly created UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, to address such challenges. In doing so, UN Member States took an historic step in accelerating the Organization’s goals on gender equality and the empowerment of women. The creation of UN Women came about as part of the UN reform agenda, bringing together resources and mandates for greater impact.
Role of UN Women
The chief roles of UN Women are:
– Supporting intergovernmental bodies (like the Commission on the Status of Women) to formulate global standards, policies and norms.
– Assisting member states to implement these policies, providing financial and technical support when requested, and forming effective partnerships with civil society.
– Leading and coordinating the UN system’s work on gender equality.
UN Women in India
In India, UN Women builds on a strong foundation, taking forward the efforts of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). Working closely with the Government of India and civil society to set national standards for achieving gender equality, UN Women is an advocate for change in policy and laws. It also coordinates the UN system’s work on advancing gender equality in India.
The five priority areas for UN Women in India are:
1. Expanding women’s leadership and participation
India has the largest absolute number of elected women representatives at the grassroots. Lack of awareness about their rights, insufficient family support and illiteracy can prevent them from performing their duties. UN Women and the Government of India train almost 67,000 elected women representatives to become effective leaders at all levels of local governance, starting from the Gram Sabhas (public meetings). Through the programme in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Rajasthan, these trainings strengthen their leadership skills and their participation, enabling them to perform their roles better and make Gram Sabha meetings more vibrant.
Besides training, research on a Gender Responsive Governance Index helps track progress made by women in local governance. A South Asia Centre for Excellence will provide resources for elected women representatives, trainers, policymakers and researchers.
2. Enhancing women’s economic empowerment
Women often do not earn equal wages for equal work. To enhance the skills and business acumen of rural women entrepreneurs and farmers, UN Women supports women with training to develop their own enterprises and market their products.
Increasing access to public schemes also makes a difference for women workers. The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) in India guarantees 100 days of paid employment to rural households per year and sets equal pay for equal work for both, men and women. An evaluation of a project under UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality between 2009 and 2011 in select districts in Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh found a five-fold increase in dalit women accessing work under the MNREGA.
Research by UN Women helps advocate for women’s rights to land and property. A study shows that land ownership provides stability and security to women, protects them from marital violence and enhances their decision-making. Another research study found that even after the Amendment to the Hindu Succession Act, women are forced to relinquish their share in inheritance of property to maintain harmony in the family.
UN Women also supports the Ministry of Indian Overseas Affairs and Women and Child Development to ensure that women migrating to the Gulf countries have better information and rights.
3. Engaging women as global peace builders and mediators
Women play an important role in building sustainable peace based on gender justice. UN Women trains and builds gender perspectives of UN peacekeepers and peace builders. For South Asia, UN Women has formed an Expert Group to strengthen women’s leadership that includes the creation of a global roster of women peace mediators.
4. Making gender equality central to national development planning and budgeting
Gender-responsive budgeting seeks to ensure that the collection and allocation of public resources is carried out in ways that are effective and contribute to advancing gender equality. Since 2008, UN Women has provided support to the Gender Responsive Budgeting cell of the Ministry of Women and Child Development. This support included organisation of 100 training workshops with government counterparts across various ministries. As a result, these ministries now have in-house expertise on gender budgeting.
Feminist economists and UN Women made recommendations to the Planning Commission on the draft approach of the 12th Five-Year Plan, arguing that inclusion needs to be embedded in the growth process. They recommended that India’s growth needed to explicitly address the constraints faced by the excluded and provide opportunities for them to be partners in growth. UN Women and some feminist economists also suggested ways in which major national schemes can be made gender sensitive. In the past as well, UN Women has engaged with the Planning Commission since the 9th Five-Year Plan to ensure that voices of women from the grassroots are heard.
5. Ending violence against women and girls
Violence against women is increasing. To prevent domestic violence, UN Women, the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women and the Lawyers Collective monitor the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005. So far, five Staying Alive reports with the National Commission for Women have tracked progress. The award-winning ‘Bell Bajao’ campaign with the Breakthrough Trust urged 130 million men and boys to prevent domestic violence.
The Safe Cities Programme, in partnership with the Delhi Government, is exploring solutions and strategies to make Delhi safer for women by conducting safety audits and making infrastructure safer for women. The South Asia sub-regional component of the Secretary General’s Campaign, “UNiTE to End Violence against Women,” is being implemented to galvanize governments and civil society, and increase efforts to end violence against women.
Another programme empowers 500 widows as agents of change to reduce stigma against them and make them an integral part of national planning and data systems.
UN Women’s initiative to combat trafficking of women and girls in India in six states aims to reduce their vulnerability to trafficking.