Happy 1st birthday to UN Women!

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By Michelle Bachelet UN Women celebrated their first birthday this month, and Executive Director Michelle Bachelet commemorated the occasion with a press conference this morning at the UN’s New York headquarters to highlight what’s next for the rapidly growing organization.
Summarizing the year’s accomplishments, Bachelet said she was proud of what the “up and almost running” organization had achieved already, establishing itself in 75 countries and pushing initiatives like establishing land rights in Kyrgyzstan, increasing safe spaces in schools for girls in Zambia, and establishing a presence in Tahrir Square after bouts of violence against women during the uprisings.
She outlined five priorities going into 2012 – increasing women’s leadership and participation, enhancing economic empowerment for women, ending violence against women and girls, engaging women in peace and security responses, and making plans and budgets gender-responsive.
The time is right for that kind of action, said Bachelet. With elections and transition periods underway worldwide, particularly in the Arab world, UN Women and its partners have a chance to step in and create policies and quotas that promote gender equality and establish it as a crucial part of the government as it’s being built from the ground up.
Creating those policies are only half the battle, however. Bachelet acknowledged that UN Women lives “in the real world,” and that while it might have some of the best and brightest creating brilliant plans for action and policies, implementation of those mandates is a continuing challenge.
To combat that, Bachelet said UN Women’s fifth priority, making plans and budgets gender-responsive, will be a key goal moving forward. When heads of power can see that giving women a bigger voice in budgeting isn’t just a public relations nod to women, but that it actually leads to concrete economic gains, women will have a better chance of keeping their opinions and policies in place.
She pointed to examples of UN Women initiatives that have promoted gender-responsive policies and succeeded. In Rwanda, a focus on gender budgeting resulted in a decline in maternal mortality; in Montevideo, Uruguay, the mayor is now advised by a council of women and now has a more balanced budget.
Putting women in government seats plays a key role in economic empowerment for women, another UN Women priority for 2012. The organization already has sustainable economic initiatives underway to close gaps in women employment and pay.
For instance, the women of Senegal can receive fishing licenses for the first time – and Bachelet noted with a smile she’s heard they’re catching more fish than the men.
That’s not to say UN Women doesn’t still face challenges. Tough economic times are especially bad for development work –UN Women needs a higher budget to compensate for economic losses that are taking effect worldwide, at a time when donors are less likely to give it.
Through 2011, UN Women had a budget of about $235 million and they’re aiming for $700 million in 2012, mainly from governments and private donors. It’s a target Bachelet admits will take some intensified fundraising, but promises each penny given will be worth it.
That’s because those pennies aren’t going towards simply towards helping girls and women who’ve been victims of violence or discrimination – it’s going towards giving those women a chance to help rebuild countries and work alongside men.
Women are much more than victims in conflict. They are leaders she told the crowd at the press conference today, and later repeated a phrase she’s said multiple times while convincing world leaders to recognize the potential of one half of the population. Empowering women isn’t just the right thing to do, but it’s the smart thing to do

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