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United Nations: Creation of New Super Agency on Women’s Rights

(Sept. 24, 2009) After three years of negotiations, in what is hailed by supporters as “a breakthrough for women's equality and rights,” the United Nations General Assembly (GA) unanimously voted to form “a new, more powerful agency for women” by combining four existing U.N. bodies that handle women's issues into one entity. The GA asked Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. Secretary-General, “to produce within a year a comprehensive proposal that would specify the new entity's mission statement, organizational arrangements, funding and executive board.” (Patrick Worsnip, U.N. Assembly Votes for More Powerful Women's Agency, REUTERS, Sept. 14, 2009, available at The new body would have an estimated budget of one billion dollars. The measure passed despite last-minute efforts by Cuba, Egypt, Iran, and Sudan to derail it. (Ratification of U.N. Agency for Women Could Be Delayed, KAISER DAILY GLOBAL HEALTH POLICY REPORT, Sept. 11, 2009, available at

The U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the U.N. Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women (OSAGI), and the U.N. International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (UN-INSTRAW) are to be merged into one body, according to the GA resolution adopted on September 14, 2009, the last day of the GA's 63rd session. The new entity will be headed by an under-secretary-general (a higher rank than those that exist at present among the agencies on women's issues, and the third-highest rank in the U.N. system), who will report directly to the U.N. Secretary-General. (Worsnip, supra; Thalif Deen, RIGHTS:U.N. Approves Long-Awaited New Women's Agency, IPS NEWS, Sept. 14, 2009, available at

Several speakers at the GA session characterized the gender reform as “a fresh start, a catalyst for bringing an important shift to the work of the United Nations in the area of gender equality and women's empowerment,” and one speaker called for the composite body to “become operational as soon as possible.” (Press Release, U.N. General Assembly, General Assembly President Says United Nations Must Be Urgently 'Reinvented,' As Time for Reform Has Passed, in Closing Statement to 63rd Session, U.N. Doc. GA10854 (Sept. 14, 2009), available at However, Japan's delegate, despite supporting the reform, expressed “strong dissatisfaction” that the draft resolution was introduced less than a week before the 63rd session's end and decried the lack of opportunity for open consultation, resulting in an “opaque consultation process.” He also suggested that “to avoid unnecessary bloating of the new entity, the principle of 'scrap-and-build' should be strictly applied when rebuilding a 'slim' entity. (Id.)

A number of agencies within and outside the U.N. expressed support for the reform. Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of the Joint U.N. Programme on HIVAIDS (UNAIDS), welcomed the consolidation as “a historic opportunity to advance the rights of women and girls,” and added that UNAIDS would “work closely with the new agency to promote women's access to health and development.” (UNAIDS Welcomes Creation of New Women's Super-Agency, UN NEWS CENTRE, Sept. 16, 2009, available at Similarly, Gareth Thomas, International Development Minister of the United Kingdom, called the step “a landmark moment for gender equality and women's rights across the world.” He added that the new agency “will have a far more powerful voice to help fight for the rights of women, including in many countries where they are still treated as second class citizens. But for this new agency to make a difference, it has to be formed quickly, deliver results and have a strong leader.” However, officials of the international advocacy group Oxfam called the decision not to specify the agency's mandate at this stage (due to pressure from some developing states) “deplorable.” (Worsnip, supra.)

The proposed reorganization is just one part of GA Resolution No. A/RES/63/311, on system-wide coherence. The Resolution covers a number of other issues, including the responsibility to protect, Assembly revitalization, and high-level dialogue on development. (Press Release, supra.)