UN Women attempts to mark its territory at CSW briefing

Posted on | December 13, 2011 by Timothy Herrmann |

While attending a briefing on the upcoming 56th session of the Commission on the Status of Women yesterday, it became apparent that UN Women is very concerned with putting on its make-up in the morning. When I think about it, UN Women reminds me of the new girl at school trying desperately to fit in. She knows she must make a good first impression and she also knows that it’s unlikely anyone, at least on the first day, will look beyond appearances.

Well, we are now looking back on an entire “first year” and UN Women is still not fitting in.

Originally floated as the official Women’s agency at the UN, internal rivalries and empty coffers are challenging the organization’s very existence. When the UN created the agency, their vision was to bring various women’s organizations and already existing agencies under a single roof. To the outside world, this is a logical thing to do. It would minimize bureaucracy and streamline the budget for women’s issues at the UN in one fell swoop. But then again, this isn’t the outside world. It’s the UN, and it represents the whole world while operating in a closed universe governed by its own rules.

And one of the rules in the UNiverse is that new organizations are meant to create jobs and increase funding, not take them away. Within months it became clear that agencies like UNIFEM were becoming increasingly territorial given that downsizing meant lost jobs and project funding. The appointment of Michelle Bachelet, the former President of Chile, as the agency’s executive director was the UNDP’s attempt to quell the inevitable riots and give UN Women a face that would raise moral and public funds along the way. So far, she too has failed and may already be preparing to abandon the already sinking ship in order to sail once again with her political party in Chile as their only viable presidential candidate.

Which leads me to my main point. UN Women is scrambling for relevance and still has yet to make friends. That is why yesterday, at the informal briefing on the preparations for the fifty-sixth session for the CSW they continued to speak about CSW and UN Women as if they were single entity when in fact, they are not. CSW is a functional commission of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), not UN Women. However yesterday, that would have been impossible to determine. The commission has been around since 1946 and was created by the ECOSOC. UN Women came onto the scene only a year ago.

During the entire meeting, instead of referring delegates and NGOs to the CSW website for more information about CSW and how to register for the upcoming session, they continued to tell everyone to go to the UN Women website. Unfortunately, the UN Women website does not provide easy access to information about CSW and really only promotes itself. When I asked a clarifying question about if it would be better to go to the UN Women website or the CSW website for more information I was told to go to the UN Women website and that the two were interchangeable. This may seem like a minor detail, but the woman was adamant. “They are the same thing” she said, and she was not referring to what the websites offered, but rather UN Women and CSW as “entities”.

It is a sad state of affairs that UN Women finds it necessary to co-opt CSW and dominate its informal briefings in order to remain relevant. Even more depressing will be when they realize that no-one, except a select few NGOs like our own, is even paying attention.

Un Women

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Turtle Bay and Beyond is a blog covering international law, policy and institutions. Our experts - at the UN, European Institutions, and elsewhere - explore an authentic understanding of international law, sovereignty, and the dignity of the human person. We expose those who would seek to impose a radical social vision that is contrary to these principles.

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