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UN: New Agency Strengthens Women’s Voice

General Assembly Should Meet Pledge to Expand Funding and Support for Women’s Rights

(New York) - The United Nations General Assembly, in creating a new agency focused on women's rights, took a major step toward mending its historical failure to invest in women's equality, Human Rights Watch said today. The General Assembly unanimously agreed on July 2, 2010, to overhaul the UN's complicated women's rights infrastructure, combining four agencies to create a new UN women's office with substantially enhanced capacity.

"At the UN, funding and a seat at the table in policy discussions are good indicators of the importance given to an issue," said Marianne Mollmann, women's rights advocate at Human Rights Watch. "The General Assembly's action means women will be full participants in the discussion."

The process of improving the UN structure for addressing women's equality and rights started in 2006, when Kofi Annan, then the secretary-general, appointed a high-level panel to recommend structural changes to make the UN more efficient. The General Assembly has debated the panel's recommendations ever since. The General Assembly agreed to establish a new women's agency in August 2009, but discussions on the details stalled over funding sources and oversight. Women's groups worldwide pressed their governments and regional bodies to support the needed changes.

"Women from all over the world came to the UN and said that the time had come to empower a single UN body to take on the challenges they face," Mollmann said. "The creation of this agency is a testament to the resilience of women's rights activists, who were convinced the UN could and should do more."

A key feature of the new agency is that it will be headed by an under-secretary-general, who will be a member of the secretary-general's cabinet and will have access to the highest levels of decision-making at the United Nations.

"So much of the promise of the new women's agency depends on finding a leader who can secure the funding and enhanced support that has been pledged," Mollmann said. "The secretary-general should conduct an open and transparent search for a highly skilled champion for women's equality and rights capable of bringing this vision to fruition."

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