Few new organizations are formed with as much anticipation as the new UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women -- or "UN Women," for short. Given its bulky official name, some of us feared a "bulky" or bureaucrat start. But, many of those fears were allayed when Michelle Bachelet, former President of Chile, was appointed last September as Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director. Any remaining fears were put to rest when she issued her January 24th statement of priorities and action plan for the organization's first 100 days.
She has laid out an inspiring vision and ambitious agenda, but also one that is strategic, focused, practical and achievable. All of us who care about women's issues should applaud the path she is forging for UN Women. Certainly, I hope the U.S. Government will provide strong support for UN Women.
Ms. Bachelet's vision lays out 5 major priorities: (1) expanding women's voice, leadership and participation; (2) ending violence against women; (3) strengthening implementation of the women, peace and security agenda; (4) enhancing women's economic empowerment and (5) making gender equality priorities central to national, local and sectoral planning and budgeting.
We at Centre for Development and Population Activities (CEDPA) recognize the importance of each of these themes, but we are especially excited to see the strong focus on women's voice and leadership and on women's economic empowerment. They really are at the heart of the search for gender equality -- they also are essential to achieving all of UN Women's objectives. We will never see an end to violence against women unless their voices are heard and unless they are able to rise to leadership positions within their communities and nations. And, how will the violence end unless women have access to equal economic opportunity?
Recognizing the critical importance of women's leadership and empowerment, CEDPA has been working for more than 35 years to enhance the leadership skills and roles of women. We have thousands of women alumni who are playing important leadership roles in their communities. I think I can speak for all of them -- and all in the extended CEDPA family -- in saying that we look forward to working with UN Women to help carry out the bold agenda laid out by Ms. Bachelet.
We recognize that there are no "magic bullets" and that success will be achieved only through many small steps and much hard work. We are thus also encouraged to see the very practical tone and plans articulated in Ms. Bachelet's vision.
She is right to have focused initially on "field capacity assessments." These have already identified critical needs and areas for support, including the building of capacity, knowledge acquisition and sharing, and empowering national actors as effective advocates. Programs to support these critical needs are achievable and can be done efficiently and effectively. UN Women is superbly positioned to lead the effort.
She is right to focus on coordination with other entities within the UN System. We are especially looking forward to the global "Women's Economic Opportunity Index" that UN Women and the World Bank will regularly produce.
And, she is right to focus on partnership and the need for UN Women to work with civil society, foundations, the commercial sector and national governments to achieve its objectives. Sharing perspectives, building on successes and channeling expertise will shorten the distance to reaching the common goal.
All of us who work on these issues within the NGO community look forward to partnering with UN Women, either formally or informally. We all also hope that our national governments will provide UN Women with the resources it needs to do its important work. The early steps of the "entity" show that such resources would be a very effective and wise investment.