NEW YORK--For years, one of the most persistent challenges facing the United Nations has been to avoid fragmentation in its delivery of humanitarian aid and development assistance.
This has been notably true for issues concerning women, which were handled by at least four agencies, sometimes with competing or overlapping responsibilities. As well, many felt women's issues generally took a backseat at the UN in all its activities and deliberations.
But last July, the UN General Assembly approved the creation of a new UN agency in an effort to address both of these problems.
In a move seen by many as historic, the Assembly brought into being the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women known more concisely as "UN Women."
"UN Women will give women and girls the strong, unified voice they deserve on the world stage," said Asha-Rose Migiro, Deputy Secretary General of the UN. "I look forward to seeing this new entity up and running so that we--women and men--can move forward together in our endeavor to achieve the goals of equality, development and peace for all women and girls, everywhere."
The creation of UN Women was historic for another reason, too. Those who followed the process closely say that civil society played a key role in shaping the concept for the agency and supporting its passage in the Assembly.
"This is really an example of the new role of civil society," said Charlotte Bunch, director of the Center for Women's Global Leadership.
The involvement of civil society in the process of establishing a unitary UN agency for women began in 2005, during the UN World Summit that year, which coincided with the loth anniversary of the 1995 Fourth World Summit for Women in Beijing.
"We kept talking amongst us about why is there not more conversation in UN reform about women," said Ms. Bunch in an interview in late July.
Then, in early 2006, UN Secretary General appointed a high-level panel to consider how the UN might improve its delivery of humanitarian and development assistance. Called the "Coherence Panel," it sought to consider ways to "eliminate unnecessary duplication and competition" among agencies across the entire UN system.
"At that time, there were only three women on the panel (out of 15)" said Ms. Bunch, describing how non-governmental organizations (NGOs) gathered at the March 2006 Commission on the Status of Women began to organize on this issue.