New York — At a press conference in New York today, UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet called for galvanizing greater commitment and action for women and gender equality, as political and economic upheaval threaten progress on women’s rights (Remarks enclosed here). She called the press conference to report on the first year of operations of UN Women. With austerity measures, budget cuts and political changes impacting women’s lives, worldwide, Ms. Bachelet outlined the action agenda of the organization in her first press conference of 2012.
“My top priority for 2012 will be to make a renewed push for women’s economic empowerment and political participation. This is in response to women’s demands and also to recent events, to the transformations taking place in the political, social and economic spheres,” said Ms. Bachelet. “With rising demand for justice, upcoming elections in many countries and political transition, we can open doors wider for women in pursuit of the dignity and rights which all human beings are entitled,” she added.
Focusing strongly on the two major developments that dominated global debate in 2011— the democracy movements in the Arab States and the continued financial and economic crisis — Ms. Bachelet highlighted the challenges that have emerged for women’s rights, but also the opportunities, and the UN Women response to the changing geo-political scenarios.
UN Women, for instance, supported the establishment of the Egyptian Women’s Union, an association of 500 groups, and facilitated the formulation of their demands in the Egyptian Women’s Charter.
The organization is also working increasingly with the private sector: 257 CEOs have so far signed on to the Women’s Empowerment Principles that guide companies in creating better and more equitable conditions for women. The principles were developed by UN Women in collaboration with the UN Global Compact. The press conference marked the completion of the first year of UN Women, and the organization’s progress, challenges and priorities for 2012 were also highlighted.
With UN Women’s new management, first strategic plan and operational budget in place, Ms. Bachelet spotlighted some further key achievements from the first year, including: bringing women leaders together during the UN General Assembly to call for more women leaders in politics and the adoption of a new GA resolution in December that calls on countries to take concrete steps to increase women’s political participation; working on enabling environments and markets to empower rural women; launch of a global policy agenda to end violence against women and initiative to provide essential services to survivors; expanding the role of women in peace talks, peace-building and recovery by training women in Africa and Asia as mediators in conflict prevention and facilitating women’s participation in international engagement conferences for Afghanistan and South Sudan; advancing capacity-building efforts in more than 50 countries in gender analysis and budgeting for more equitable budgets and policies.
A system-wide plan facilitated by UN Women now also forms a stronger foundation for promoting better coordination and accountability within the UN System on gender-related activities.
In 2011, contributions to UN Women totaled $235 million, representing a 33 percent increase from 2010, and a widening of the donor base. However intensified fundraising efforts are required to meet the target of $700 million for 2012-2013.
Calling on all partners and sending a strong message on the urgency to ensure that political changes and budget cuts does not push back the hard won gains made by the women’s movement globally, Ms Bachelet underlined the need to protect and advance gender equality as a matter of moral prerogative as well as practical necessity.
“We simply can no longer afford to deny the full potential of one-half of the population. The world needs to tap into the talent and wisdom of women. Whether the issue is food security, economic recovery, health, or peace and security, the participation of women is needed now more than ever,” Ms. Bachelet concluded.