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Can UN Reform Be Successful? The Case of UN Women

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Part of the The Sciences Po Series in International Relations and Political Economy book series (SPIRP)

Abstract

The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) was created by the General Assembly on 2 July 2010 as the main institutional body to advance global women’s rights both within and outside the UN system. Yet, while the organization was created to bring more rationality to the UN system, the change as it unfolds through and within UN Women from 2010 onwards remains marked by ambiguity. This chapter shows that UN Women’s institutional reform did produce change. But this change should not be understood in a linear way, as a logical result of its formal establishment in 2010. Nor should it be thought of as mechanically resulting from a top-down dynamic, where country office staff take ownership of reforms decided at the top. The reform and the management tools on which it is based are appropriated in different ways by headquarters and country office staff, between those who defend the “normalization” of the agency and those who deplore its potential adverse effects on its “original” activist vocation.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    We thus apprehend the analysis of the institutions in a sociological way, as a “system of rules, standards, values, routines, instituted practices, roles, stable and durable beliefs, shared by a social group” (Nay, 2017: 303).

  2. 2.

    See, in the context of Burundi where UN Women has worked since 1993: Saiget (2019).

  3. 3.

    Interview, National coordinator of programs, UN Women, Abidjan, 19 November 2021.

  4. 4.

    Online interview, Director of the Office of the Executive Director of UN Women, 22 July 2021. On UN Women’s resource allocation, see: https://www.unwomen.org/en/executive-board/strategic-plan-review/financial-resources.

  5. 5.

    The first Executive Directors of UN Women are Michelle Bachelet (Chili, 2010–2013), Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka (Afrique du Sud, 2013–2021), Sima Sami Bahous (2021–…).

  6. 6.

    Online Interview, 26 July 2021.

  7. 7.

    The second Deputy Executive Director of UN Women is responsible for the UN system coordination, resource management, sustainability and partnerships.

  8. 8.

    In Africa, while there were four regional offices: South Africa in Johannesburg, East Africa in Nairobi, Central Africa in Kigali, and West Africa in Dakar, there are now only two, in Dakar and Nairobi.

  9. 9.

    Regional Directors now report directly to the UN Women Deputy Executive Director rather than to the Programme Director as was the practice. They also have a seat on senior management teams.

  10. 10.

    Online interview, 22 July 2021.

  11. 11.

    Online interview, 26 July 2021.

  12. 12.

    In 2021, UN Women consists in 70 representations, made up of 7 liaison offices, 6 regional offices, 6 regional offices and 51 country-offices. This number is pretty similar to previous level as in 2016, UN Women architecture relied on 44 country offices, 6 multi-country and 6 regional offices (UN Women, 2016).

  13. 13.

    Interview, Abidjan, 24 November 2021.

  14. 14.

    Interview, Dakar, 12 April 2022.

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Correspondence to Marie Saiget .

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Saiget, M., Tordjman, S. (2023). Can UN Reform Be Successful? The Case of UN Women. In: Guilbaud, A., Petiteville, F., Ramel, F. (eds) Crisis of Multilateralism? Challenges and Resilience. The Sciences Po Series in International Relations and Political Economy. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-39671-7_11

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