Founded in 1945 after the Second World War by 51 countries with the primary aim to maintain international peace and security, the UN now has 192 member countries. Although most known for its peacekeeping, conflict prevention and human rights, the organisation works on a broad range of fundamental issues related to health, human rights, gender equality and the advancement of women. Its agency that promotes the right of every woman, man and child to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity is UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. This agency supports countries in using population data for policies and programmes to reduce poverty and to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect.
To complement the role played by UNFPA in 2011 the UN launched UN Women, which is dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women, which are both crucial drivers of development. A global champion for women and girls, UN Women was established to accelerate progress on meeting their needs worldwide. As UN Women grows its role and importance will develop, along with the way in which it interacts with parliamentarians on population and development issues.
For parliamentarians interested in citizens’ welfare and gender equality, UNFPA and UN Women are vital actors to know and work with.
EPF’s Parliamentary Taskforce dedicated to the UN was launched at the beginning of 2008. It focuses on supporting Parliamentary involvement in UN decision-making and ensures that a Parliamentary perspective supporting sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) is heard in relevant UN settings. The taskforce is open to interested European Parliamentarians. In the framework of this taskforce, EPF organises a yearly visit to the UN Commission on the Status of Women or the UN Commission on Population and Development to New York.
Human Rights, Gender Equality and the Advancement of Women are important components within the UN System. A range of UN Funds, Programmes and Agencies dedicate their work to these issues. Most notably, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the guardian of and primary actor in the implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action. The UN Fund for Women (UNIFEM), focuses on fostering women’s empowerment and gender equality and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), whose work is driven by a gender equality strategy that focuses mainly on the political empowerment of women.
In addition, the UN Commission on the Status of Women (UN CSW), the UN Commission on Population and Development (UN CPD) and the UN Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) ensure that women’s issues are being dealt with at UN level during their yearly meetings. In July 2010, the UN General Assembly has decided to create “UN Women”, a new entity to accelerate progress in meeting the needs of women and girls worldwide and for making their voices heard at UN level and beyond.
As an Official in the EU Delegation in New York stated: “It remains valid that SRHR is one of the most difficult issues to reach consensus on among EU Member States since there is a wide variety of opinions and national concepts attached to this”.
In recent years, the European Union has failed to speak with one voice at UN level, especially during the UN CPD and the UN CSW. This lack of consensus has primarily been and continues to be caused by Malta at EU level and a number of other opposition countries mainly from Africa and the Middle East as well as the Holy See which holds observer status at the UN.
Since consensus is required amongst EU Member States to generate a strong European voice, dedicated attempts to advance progressive sexual and reproductive health language in the outcome documents of these sessions have not always been successful in recent years. This is also due to the fact that UN decision-making processes apply the one-country-one–vote principle which has at least two important repercussions on negotiation behaviour of Member States: a) countries negotiate from a purely national point of view and are less inclined to feel compelled falling into EU line and b) this approach is fostered by the fact that opt-out possibilities or annexing country specific statements to the agreed resolutions as is it practiced at EU level does not apply at UN level.
Although NGOs and other civil society organisations have carved out a niche in the UN system which allows them to make their voices heard during the Commission meetings, this is not the case for parliamentary involvement. Parliamentarians do not have a forum at the UN, let alone during these Commission meetings unless they are part of their national delegations, which is rarely the case.
EPF holds Special Consultative Status with the United Nation’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). This allows us not only to open the door for Members of Parliament to participate in UN CPD and UN CSW meeting but also to apply for speaking time during plenary sessions. Like this we ensure to make the voice of Parliamentarians as representatives of their people heard on the issue of sexual and reproductive health and rights and related issues.
Since 2008, EPF has brought three high level Parliamentary Delegations to the UN CSW and the UN CPD. Next to actively participating in the Commission’s sessions and debates, EPF has organised a side programme with senior officials, administrators and executive directors of UNFPA, UNIFEM and UNDP including with the UN Deputy Secretary General, the EU Delegation in New York, USAID and major NGOs and research institutes in the US. These meetings allowed participants to learn more about UN decision-making procedures and the role the EU plays at the UN. In addition, Parliamentarians receive first-hand information about programs, initiatives and future efforts of key UN and US stakeholders.
Parliamentary Delegation attends 44th session of UN Commission on Population and Development in New York
- In 2009, Hon. Lyn Brown, MP (UK) delivered a speech during the UN CPD Plenary Meeting and urged the international community to revitalise the MDGs by addressing sexual and reproductive health and rights.
- In 2010, Hon. Sirpa Pietikäinen, MEP and Hon. Danielle Bousquet, MP featured in the European Parliament’s in-house magazine The Parliament Magazine with articles on the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
- Members of Parliament have engaged with their governments prior to UN Commission meetings through Parliamentary Questions to enquire the government’s priorities for the relevant sessions, to urge government representatives to take a strong stance on women’s and girl’s sexual and reproductive health and rights and to demand a government debriefing of the outcomes in parliament.
- EPF Delegation Members have successfully engaged with the negotiation team of their governments during Commission meetings to ensure that strong SRHR language features in the relevant outcome documents.
What others have said
- “We believe that the promotion of women’s rights, sexual and reproductive health and rights and gender equality is absolutely fundamental to the fight against global poverty.”
Hon. Lyn Brown, MP in the UN CPD Plenary Meeting on behalf of the 2009 EPF Parliamentary Delegation.
Recommendations - what can MPs do
- Send a Parliamentary Question to the relevant ministry Prior to important UN Commission Meetings to learn more about your government’s priorities, demand a strong stance on sexual and reproductive health in the outcome document and demand a debriefing of the outcomes of the meeting before Parliament
- Enquire if Members of Parliament can be part of the national delegation to UN Meetings
- Building and activating contacts and networks with relevant ministers, ministries and civil servants and “cultivating” these continuously and coherently can be instrumental to influence and shape a government’s position prior to a UN commission meeting