Is the UN Ready to Give Women a Strong and Unified Voice?


The leaders of UN Women are at the forefront of a cultural shift in gender equality. Yet it is not enough to merely give women’s issues a place on the global agenda, they must give women a strong, unified voice. 

In July 2010 the United Nations announced that they would be establishing a new entity that would encompass any and all work dedicated to issues of gender inequality and women’s empowerment particularly those related to violence and discrimination. The UN Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, also known as UN Women, is to be headed by former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and is comprised of the already established offices of 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), and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). During this past January 2011, UN Women was launched and the unveiling of the new logo was presented during the African Union Summit. The creation of this office sets a precedent; it has placed women’s issues on par with other major UN entities. Women’s issues are no longer channeled through or lumped with issues regarding children or the family. The separation of women’s issues proves that concentrating on the burdens of maltreatment and inequality women endure are critical to the health and safety of a society.

While I consider the formation of this office of principal importance in women’s history, I only heard about it last week during another course I am currently taking. I was stunned I had not heard of this previously. Did I simply miss it in the news? Was I just completely consumed with schoolwork that I had not paid better attention? I asked the other members of my class whether they had known about this event. In a class of 30 students (mostly women), only two had heard of UN Women; one because she is in another program with a greater ‘global’ focus, and the other because she happened to stumble upon the website during her research for our paper due that day. I was astonished. I could not believe that something of this consequence would be minimized in media coverage. I retraced my search online just prior to writing this post in an effort to be certain about my perception of media attention to this event. I found a couple articles in the NY Times from July 2010 when the idea was first proposed and a couple articles again in September 2010 when Michelle Bachelet was appointed Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of UN Women. Other than those mentions, the only other stories were posted on the UN Women website.

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It is possible that the press was not compelled to provide UN Women adequate coverage because of other world events such as those in Tunisia, Egypt, and Jordan but I think the leaders at UN Women should have pursued media coverage more vigorously.  In a conversation earlier today regarding this issue I asked my friend his opinion, he responded that that he agreed it should have been made a ‘bigger thing’ but that he is not surprised. So why am I upset and angry? There are two main reasons. First, I am infuriated over the fact that despite the formation of this office to handle issues solely related to women, its importance is seemingly devalued by the press, as shown in the lack of coverage. My second complaint is that even the women leaders who worked to push for the formation of UN Women did not persuade media that this new entity is significant, which as a result devalues the overall goal of promoting women’s issues on the global stage. If women diminish the importance of this institution how will the vital and valuable mission flourish and make an impact?

The creation of this entity is not sufficient in and of itself. This mission of UN Women deserves to be placed in prominent visibility in the most sophisticated media package available for everyone around the world to either see, hear, or read. People need to be told how important women are and how the issues women face are a global epidemic and not isolated to a few countries. The leaders of UN Women are at the forefront of a cultural shift in gender equality. Yet it is not enough to merely give women’s issues a place on the global agenda, they must give women a strong, unified voice. They need to utilize the media as so societies around the world can hear the voice of women and begin to change the dominant social and cultural norms that suppress and discriminate. 

Author: Marisa Schnider

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