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Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law [MPEPIL]

United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)

Stefanie Schmahl

From: Oxford Public International Law (http://opil.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2015. All Rights Reserved.date: 20 March 2019

Subject(s):
Indigenous peoples — Women, rights

Published under the auspices of the Max Planck Foundation for International Peace and the Rule of Law under the direction of Rüdiger Wolfrum.

The United Nations Development Fund for Women (‘UNIFEM’; ‘Fund’), which was dissolved in December 2010, emerged from the Voluntary Fund for the UN Decade for Women (UNGA Res 31/133 [16 December 1976] UN Doc A/RES/31/133), which in turn had proceeded from the Voluntary Fund for the International Women’s Year founded by the Economic and Social Council Resolution 1850 (LVI) of 16 May 1974. From the time of its establishment on 1 July 1985 (see UNGA Res 40/104 [13 December 1985] UN Doc A/RES/40/104 para. 1) until its merger into the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) on 1 January 2011, UNIFEM was a separate and identifiable entity in autonomous association with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The Fund, with headquarters in New York, continued, until its dissolution, the temporary tasks of its predecessors on a permanent basis.

The mandate of UNIFEM was to support innovative and experimental activities directly benefiting and empowering women and girls in line with national and regional priorities, to ensure the appropriate involvement of women in mainstream development activities, as often as possible in the pre-investment stages, and to play an innovative role in relation to the United Nations’ overall system of development co-operation (Development, International Law of). The resources of the Fund were used mainly to supplement—and not to substitute for—activities of other development co-operation organizations and agencies particularly with regard to women’s concerns, and as such they were meant to serve as a catalyst (see UNGA Res 39/125 [14 December 1984] UN Doc A/RES/39/125 Annex para. 9).

From 1978 until 2010, UNIFEM and its predecessors provided financial assistance and technical assistance to thousands of innovative approaches throughout the world aimed at fostering women’s empowerment and gender equality (Women, Non-Discrimination of; Women, Rights of, International Protection). Placing the advancement of women’s human rights at the centre of all its efforts, the Fund focused its activities basically on four strategic areas: reducing women’s poverty; ending violence against women; halting and reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS among women and girls; and achieving gender equality in democratic governance in times of peace as well as war (see UNGA Res 60/137 [16 December 2005] UN Doc A/RES/60/137 para. 2). In the late 1990s and through the early 2000s, further special tasks were added due to several recommendations made by the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women 1995 (‘Beijing Platform’; UNGA ‘Report of the Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing, 4–15 September 1995’ UN Doc A/CONF.177/20 [1995] Annex II) and by UN Security Council Resolution 1325 of 31 October 2000 on women, peace and security: the support of women’s leadership and participation in the reconstruction of post-conflict countries and better access for women to information and communication technologies and to water resources, nutritional programmes, and health services, as well as the securing of indigenous women’s rights and the improvement of the situation of women in rural areas (see UNGA Res 54/135 [17 December 1999] UN Doc A/RES/54/135; Indigenous Peoples). These tasks were all affirmed in the United Nations, Millennium Declaration and the eight Millennium Development Goals for 2015, and further enhanced by various UN Security Council Resolutions, such as Resolutions 1820 of 19 June 2008 (UN Doc S/RES/1820 [2008]), 1888 of 30 September 2009 (UN Doc S/RES/1888 [2009]), 1889 of 5 October 2009 (UN Doc S/RES/1889 [2009]), and 1960 of 16 December 2010 (UN Doc S/RES/1960 [2010]).

Many strategies for achieving gender equality have also been developed at national levels through efforts to implement the Beijing Platform and the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. These approaches were often supplemented, co-financed, and encouraged by UNIFEM, which held programme offices, supported by 16 (unsalaried) national committees, in more than 100 countries in the major regions of the world. To strengthen and to mainstream a gender perspective, UNIFEM reinforced the co-operation between governments and civil society, especially local women’s organizations. Its work on gender-responsive budgets began in 1996 in Southern Africa and has recently expanded to include East Africa, Southeast and South Asia, Central America, the Andean region, and Eastern Europe.

For the purpose of integrating a gender perspective into all development programmes of the United Nations (UN), the Fund maintained close and continuous working relationships in particular with several Departments of the UN Secretariat (eg with the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the Division for the Advancement of Women), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Commission on the Status of Women, and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Of outstanding importance was the close collaboration with the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (‘INSTRAW’; United Nations, Autonomous Research Institutes). However, the merger between UNIFEM and INSTRAW, which had already been proposed by Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali in 1994 as a matter of the reform of the UN system, had been unsuccessful for many years (see UNGA Res 48/111 [28 February 1994] UN Doc A/RES/48/111 and UNGA Res 50/162 [22 December 1995] UN Doc A/RES/50/162; United Nations, Reform). Only with the creation of UN-Women in the beginning of 2011 did UNIFEM and INSTRAW merge, together with the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (‘OSAGI’) and the Division for the Advancement of Women (‘DAW’), into one composite entity within the UN system in order to progress more effectively and efficiently by enhanced coherence and accountability toward the goal of achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women.

The administrator of UNDP was accountable for all aspects of management and operations of UNIFEM. He was endorsed by a Consultative Committee in which the President of the United Nations, General Assembly designated with due regard to the financing of UNIFEM from voluntary contributions and to equitable geographical distribution, five Member States for a term of three years. Each State Party of the Consultative Committee assigned a representative with relevant expertise and experience in development cooperation activities, including those benefiting women, to serve on the committee. The administrator appointed an Executive Director of the Fund to which the management of UNIFEM and its administration, including responsibility for the mobilization of resources, were delegated. Based on the director’s recommendation and taking into account the advice of the Consultative Committee, the Administrator submitted an annual report on the operations, management, and budget of the Fund to the Governing Council of UNDP, to the UN General Assembly, and to the Commission on the Status of Women.

UNIFEM relied on voluntary financial contributions (International Organizations or Institutions, Financing of). Funding came from contributions by governments, foundations, corporations, and intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations (‘NGOs’), and from donations by individuals. Whereas in the beginning the contributions made to the Fund were spare and amounted in the 1980s to a serious financial crisis (UNIFEM’s support for the Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO] sparked off the loss of support from the American Women’s movement), these contributions steadily increased during the 1990s through the mid-2000s. The total income of all voluntary contributions in 2005 was US$53.61 million, approximately US$50 million thereof from national governments, the Nordic States being the most important donors.

Despite considerable progress in laws and policies to address gender-based violence and segregation in the 1990s and 2000s, discrimination and crimes against women persisted, and continue to persist, in every part of the world. Through its Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women, UNIFEM supported innovative strategies to bridge this enduring implementation gap. In a similar way, the Fund played an important role in contributing to an increase in opportunities and options for women especially in developing countries, where socio-economic inequities often have a detrimental effect on their situation. By nominating prominent personalities as goodwill ambassadors, UNIFEM tried to change the reluctant attitude of some States vis-à-vis women’s rights. In sum, the Fund’s strength lay in its flexibility and the complementarity of its innovative and catalytic priority roles, especially in assisting national and regional ministries and NGOs to integrate the concerns of women. Its weakness, however, was to be seen in the fact that the voluntary financial resources were often insufficient to enable UNIFEM to respond adequately to the increasing number of requests received. Therefore the United Nations General Assembly decided in 2010 to found UN-Women (see UNGA Res 64/289 [21 July 2010] UN Doc A/RES/64/289), a new composite Entity which took over and consolidated the mandates, resources, and functions of all previous UN entities that had striven for women’s rights in order to raise more efficient and effective development aid for women’s concerns.