8 Notable Advances for Women at the UN General Assembly

   •    October 3, 2014

Islamic State. Ebola. Climate change. The issues topping the agenda at the 69th UN General Assembly (UNGA) have no easy solutions. But during the debates of the last week, one thing was clear: Without equal participation of women, we stand no chance of tackling these global threats or preventing future ones from emerging.

Thankfully, this year, more and more officials used their time on- and off-stage to call attention to the needs and perspectives of women and girls. Here are eight ways women’s leadership was in the spotlight at the UNGA.

1. The UN Security Council had the highest number of female ambassadors in history.

This year, over a third of UN Security Council seats were filled by women, a record number. Six women represented their countries on this illustrious body, from Argentina, Jordan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Nigeria, and the US.

2. President Obama reaffirmed US support for women’s participation.

During his official address to the UNGA, President Obama reiterated the US government’s commitment to ensuring women’s inclusion in decision making. He acknowledged that meaningful participation is critical “in parliaments and in peace processes; in schools and the economy.”

A refugee from Idlib prepares a meal for her children in a camp on the Syrian-Turkish border. At the UN, Syrian women called on Member States to commit the remainder of funds for humanitarian relief—thus far, only one-third has been raised. (Photo: SyriaFreedom)

3. Syrian women advised US Secretary of State John Kerry on innovative ways to build peace.

As the US-led coalition launched airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria, a delegation of Syrian activists urged Secretary Kerry, UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura, and other officials to support an inclusive political transition, increase the reach of humanitarian relief, and improve the horrific treatment of prisoners currently held by all parties to the conflict. Read their recommendations here.

4. Emma Watson launched a global solidarity campaign of men for gender equality

Actress Emma Watson—recently tapped to be a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador—called on men worldwide to stand up for gender equality. Her speech has already inspired over 160,000 male allies to join the #HeForShe movement.

Former President of Ireland Mary Robinson and UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka kick off a leaders’ forum on climate change. Attendees urged concrete action in support of women’s efforts to find common solutions to the climate crisis. (Photo: UN Women)

5. Leaders acknowledged women as “the first and last line of defense when it comes to climate issues.”

As part of the pre-UNGA Climate Summit, UN Women and the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice convened over 130 global leaders to discuss how climate change disproportionately affects women and children. President of Chile Michelle Bachelet affirmed that “when it comes to climate policy, more women need seats at the table.”

Refugees receive trauma counseling after escaping the violence engulfing Syria. Women are often a primary target of extremist groups, but research shows they are also well-positioned to temper radical beliefs in their families and communities, as well as bridge the social divides that contribute to violence. (Photo: UK Department for International Development)

6. A new Security Council resolution recognized women’s role in countering violent extremism.

Resolution 2178, adopted unanimously by all 15 members, concentrates on curtailing the flow of foreign fighters to Iraq and Syria. Strikingly, it also calls on Member States to engage local communities and civil society, including women, in developing strategies to curb violent extremism and “address the conditions conducive to [its] spread.”

Indigenous rights activists from Bangladesh, Guatemala, Mali, Norway, and The Philippines pose after speaking at a high-level UN panel. Despite facing double marginalization, indigenous women are advocating for greater representation for themselves and their communities. (Photo: UN Women)

7. A historic event highlighted the contributions of indigenous women and girls.

This year marked the first-ever World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, a high-level plenary meeting of the UNGA. As part of this groundbreaking occasion, UN Women and the International Forum on Indigenous Women hosted a panel to recognize the leadership of indigenous women and their critical role in sustainable development.

A mother holds her newborn at a hospital in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The country’s maternal mortality rate fell 40 percent in the last decade, as new health and development policies focused on women’s needs were implemented. (Photo: United Nations)

8. Activists marked progress on women’s rights and wellbeing over the last 20 years.

In the twenty years since the UN adopted a Programme of Action that put gender equality and reproductive health at the forefront of global development, a billion people have escaped poverty and maternal mortality has been cut almost in half. UN officials, Member States, and leading international activists reflected last month on how to take these advancements to the next level.

Though this is solid progress, women are still underrepresented in the decisions that affect their lives. To change this reality, Inclusive Security supports women peacebuilders worldwide to advocate to policymakers, including at the UN, for their full and meaningful participation. Click here to learn more and to donate.

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