The United Nations at 70 and the ongoing quest for gender equality.

Author:Mlambo-Ngcuka, Phumzile
Position:The United Nations at 70

As we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the United Nations, let us look back and acknowledge what has been achieved. During those seven decades the world has changed enormously. This anniversary is therefore also an opportunity to assess what more the international community needs to do to meet the new challenges.

Thanks to the determined contribution and vision of pioneering women (and men) throughout its history, gender equality and women's human rights have always been central to the three pillars of the work of the United Nations: peace and security, development, and human rights. Established by the General Assembly in 2010, UN Women holds the mandate to ensure that the quest for gender equality continues to be recognized as a fundamental prerequisite to making progress across each of these interlinked areas.

It is remarkable that, from the outset and at a time when the global women's movement was still in its infancy, gender equality was written into the Charter of the United Nations. The Charter defined the mission of the United Nations as being "to achieve international co-operation ... in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion". There were only four women among the 160 signatories: from Brazil, China, the Dominican Republic, and the United States of America. Together they instilled women's human rights into this historic document.

Within its first year, the Economic and Social Council established its Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), as the principal global policymaking body dedicated to gender equality and the advancement of women. Fifteen government representatives, all of them women, met for the first session of the CSW in February 1947, at Lake Success in New York. One of the first tasks of the CSW was to contribute to the drafting of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognized that "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights". The Declaration provided the foundation for the development of our comprehensive human rights system which, to this day, sets universal standards for building better, fairer societies, in which women and girls can play an equal part.

The CSW subsequently turned its attention to advancing women's political rights, at a time when many Member States had not yet extended voting rights to women, and equality within marriage. Since then, there have been 59 sessions of the Commission, where Member States have come together to discuss critical issues related to gender equality, and to agree on priority actions to advance the agenda.

Fast-forward to 1975, when the General Assembly convened the World Conference on Women in Mexico City, to mark International Women's Year. Much was achieved over the following decade, 1976-1985, which was declared the United Nations Decade for Women. In 1976, the Voluntary Fund for the United Nations Decade for Women (which later became UNIFEM) was set up to provide financial and technical assistance to innovative programmes and strategies that promote women's human rights, political participation and economic security.

Another major achievement came when the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination...

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