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  • Sara Ipakchi

Guide: UN Women

Updated: Mar 4, 2022

UN Women was birthed by the widespread recognition of gender-based dimensions linked to every human rights topic. Many of us may passively recognise the existence of such organisations, but how many of us have considered their active role in society? This guide will summarise the role of UN Women and its perpetual importance to human development.

What is UN Women?

Established in 2010, UN Women consists of four parts of the United Nations (UN) systems which have been merged together:

United Nations Building
  • The Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW)

  • The International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW)

  • The Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI)

  • The United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)

It was designed to accelerate the progress of achieving gender equality and female empowerment on a global scale, encouraging fair partnerships between women and men to promote sustainable development. Covering over 135 nationalities and 90 countries, all representatives cherish peace, justice, and dignity, believing strongly in the power of collaboration. Creating an international and intergovernmental space, the organisation harvests closed relationships with UN movements, civil society, national committees and women at a local level. Their widespread sphere of influence facilitates their impact on programmes and governments, encouraging them to embrace the abolishment of structural inequality.

What is its key mission?

The UN Women ‘Planet 50/50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality’ mission, also known as ‘Step It Up’ or ‘Planet 50/50 by 2030’, demands governments to make national commitments to address societal factors which encourage the repression of women. This initiative closely follows the UN '2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development', inspiring women and girls to unlock their full potential.

poster for the planet 50/50 initiative launched by un women

  • The eradication of violence against females

  • Encouraging women’s participation in decision-making

  • Investing in national action plans and policies promoting gender fairness (e.g. UN Women Flagship Programme: Making Every Girl and Woman Count)

  • Creating public education campaigns

…and much more.

Although the final goal is to guarantee participation in all aspects of life, UN Women consistently assists women through a wider scope. Their actions forge the base for the ‘Step It Up’ mission, working in a range of fields including:

  • Leadership and political participation

  • Economic empowerment

  • Ending violence against women

  • Peace and security

  • Humanitarian action

  • Youth

  • Governance and national planning

  • Sustainable development

  • HIV and AIDS

Through the UN Women’s international involvement, women are supported in their need to lead, participate in and benefit equally from governance systems. Consequently, there is a larger chance for women to overcome sexism, access a decent job and, consequently, their own economic autonomy.

How does it work?

people negotiating in a meeting

Working on two fronts, UN Women specialise in international political negotiations and in supporting the UN. Planting the seeds for social justice through negotiations allows the formulation of globally agreed standards for gender parity. Subsequently, it promotes the implementation of said standards by assisting UN Member States with the provision of expertise and financial support. UN Women also aids other factions in the UN system, encouraging them to evoke the inevitable significance of equality across a broad range of issues related to human rights and human development. It is especially responsible for holding the UN accountable for its commitment to gender impartiality, including its monitoring of the system-wide progress. Other roles include:

  • Flagship programme initiatives

  • Innovation and technology

  • Intergovernmental support

  • UN system coordination

  • Gender parity in the UN

  • Training for gender equality and women’s empowerment

  • Research and data

Why is it significant?

The theme for International Women’s Day 2021is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.” as announced by UN Women. Even in times of crisis, this entity provides an invaluable international voice for women. Backed by icons such as Angela Merkel and Emma Watson, there is a unified sense of safety. Its objectives consider global, national, and regional issues, and its partnerships allow a strong leadership role in policymaking. With the right alliances, UN Women could mould the future of economic models, bringing evidence-based solutions and research into mainstream debates.

Human rights campaign gender equality flag

As a fairly new organisation, UN Women has expressed its need to improve its human resource capacity. Battling against time sensitive circumstances, it has restructured its leadership style to stimulate motivation, autonomy and the creation of multidisciplinary teams.

Its recent global action has guaranteed improved gender equality in countries whose cultures are often considered to be male dominated (e.g. India), allowing inclusivity in governments through policy. With strong partnerships and funding, UN Women has also backed countless campaigns. According to The Guardian, the entity issues grants of about $25,000 each year in Chilean programmes to ‘empower women in the workplace’ and ‘reduce gender-based violence’. A Latin American woman, Francisca Valenzuela, welcomed the assistance, grateful for both the monetary support and “the prestige of having UN Women behind you that open doors”.

How can you participate?

1. Expand Your Knowledge

Learn more about specific events or issues affecting women. Looking for a place to start? Take a look at the UN Women Digital Library for a list of free publications.

2. Join the Gender Equality Network

Visit the UN Women Get Involved page for information on campaign participation, social media awareness, networks and donations.

3. No More Femicide and Violence

If you know anyone who needs support, please call the 24hr National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0909 20000 247 or find a local support centre via the Women's Aid website. For more information on specific circumstances, visit the End Violence Against Women webpage.

4. Think Local

Does your county embrace equality? Does your region adhere to policies that promote inequality? Do you have any ideas which could help the female community? Contact your local MP!

5. Baby Steps

Use your voice to actively speak out as an individual, whether it be verbally or through social media. Reject misogyny, correct gender-based assumptions. Be considerate of others, as anyone may be sexism’s latest target.

For more resources on women, head to our dedicated Feminism and Gender Issues section.

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