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UN WORKING FOR WOMEN

1945

The Charter of the United Nations enshrined the principle of equal rights for all, "without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion".  [Article 1].  Commission on the Status of Women established by the UN to promote women’s rights and equality.

1975

International Women’s Year: First World Conference on Women held in Mexico City.

1976-1985

United Nations Decade for Women: Equality, Development and Peace. During the Decade, two major conferences were held, 1980 in Copenhagen and 1985 in Nairobi, to galvanise public interest, raise awareness of women’s issues and adopt international plans of action to advance the status of women.

1976

The UN Voluntary Fund for Women, was created to provide financial support for innovative projects mainly directed at rural and poor urban women in developing countries. Subsequently renamed the UN Development Fund for Women and given the acronym - UNIFEM.

1979

The UN adopted the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women [CEDAW] which has now been ratified by over 100 countries.

1982

First meeting of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women which monitors compliance with the 1979 Convention.

1983

The International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW) was created with headquarters in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

1985

The UN Decade for Women concluded with the adoption of The Nairobi Forward Looking Strategies [FLS] for the Advancement of Women, a blueprint for global action to achieve women’s equality by the year 2000.

1990

The Commission on the Status of Women undertook a five-year review and appraisal to assess progress made in implementing the Nairobi Forward Looking Strategies.

1995

The UN held another major World Conference on Women in Beijing to assess progress made so far in achieving women’s equality world-wide. The Plan of Action was adopted as a blueprint for further activities by States.

Women’s affairs and the integration of women in development plans are now included in the programmes of most of the organisations in the United Nations system. Focal points have been established in each department of the Secretariat of the United Nations, as well as in each specialised agency, to deal with women’s issues and the integration of women in development. The activities of all the organisations in this direction are coordinated through inter-agency meetings. There are, however, three entities dealing solely with the subject of women: the Division for the Advancement of Women, the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW) and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).

DIVISION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF WOMEN

The Division for the Advancement of Women, is part of the Centre for Social Development and Humanitarian Affairs, United Nations Office at Vienna, and is the focal point in the United Nations system for activities relating to women. It acts as secretariat both to the Commission on the Status of Women and to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Its programmes relate particularly to monitoring and appraising the implementation of the Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women. The Division is not a funding agency and has no part in field projects. Activities concentrate on research studies and co-ordination of research, expert-group meetings and advisory seminars. Particular stress is laid on the priority themes selected by the Commission on the Status of Women: each year, one under each of the following rubics: equality, development and peace.

A DECADE FOR WOMEN

Thirty years after the United Nations first announced its commitment to equality between men and women in its Charter of 1945, concern over the continuing unequal status of women led to the declaration of 1975 as International Women’s Year. For the first time in history the eyes of the world were focused on that half of its population who, by virtue of an accident of birth, perform two-thirds of the world’s work, receive one tenth of its income and own less than one hundredth of its property. It was the start of an international effort to right the wrongs of history. That same year the United Nations General Assembly declared the years between 1976 and 1985 to be the United Nations Decade for Women.

Marking the end of that decade, the World Conference on Women was held in Nairobi in July 1985, where delegates from over 140 countries gathered to assess the achievements of ten years of international commitment to improving the status of women. 

In 1995 another World Conference on Women was held in Beijing attended by over 40,000 women from non-governmental organisations.
A Plan of Action was adopted to guide action required in the years ahead. 

United Nations’ agencies have themselves been amassing a fund of independent research from all over the world. The results of these investigations reveal: 

    • that women do almost all the world’s domestic work which, together with their additional work outside the home, means most women work a double day; 

    • that women grow around half of the world’s food, but own hardly any land, find it difficult to get loans and are overlooked by agricultural advisors and projects; that women are one third of the world’s food, but own hardly any land, find it difficult to get loans and are overlooked by agricultural advisors and projects; 

    • that women are one third of the world’s official labour force, but are concentrated in the lowest-paid occupations and are more vulnerable to unemployment than men; 

    • that, although there are some signs that the wage gap is closing slightly, women still earn less than three quarters of the wage of men doing similar work; that women provide more health care than all the health services put together and have been major beneficiaries of a new global shift in priorities towards prevention of disease and promotion of good health; 

    • that the average number of children women want has dropped from six to four in just one generation;

    • that women continue to outnumber men among the world’s illiterates by around three to two, but that a school enrolment boom is closing the education gap between girls and boys; that 90 per cent of countries now have organisations promoting the advancement of women; but that women, because of their poorer education, their lack of confidence, their greater workload, are still dramatically under-represented in the decision-making bodies of their countries.

The results point, again and again, to the major underlying cause of women’s inequality. A woman’s domestic role as wife and mother - which is vital to the well-being of the whole society, which consumes around half of her time and her energy - is unpaid and undervalued.

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