Written by: Rosa Lizarde, Feminist Task Force Coordinator
The official launch of UN Women took place last night in the great General Assembly hall at the United Nations. “Honouring the Past: Envisioning the Future for Women and Girls,” was an historic occasion, marking a new era for women not only at the UN but around the world. “Now is the time to give women equal power and rights in every respect!” proclaimed the GA President, Joseph Deiss of Switzerland, opening a polished production of a ceremony which included royal and Hollywood celebrities. “Now is the time to get serious on gender equality,” President Deiss continued, challenging every member-state to make this the turning point to advance the status of women and girls.”
The General Assembly hall was uncharacteristically done up, with dimmed lights, spot lights and vibrant reds and glowing whites highlighting the great seal of the UN, giving this historic occasion the gravitas it truly deserves. In the dimmed spotlight, ABC’s ancor, Ju Ju Chang, welcomed Ban ki Moon as the “the man behind UN Women.” “The birth of UN Women could not be better timed. This year marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. We have come a long way in a century, but we still have far to go. UN Women takes us an important step in the right direction,” proclaimed Secretary General Ban ki Moon. “Thanks to the governments who acted with courage. Negotiations were touch but we prevailed. I’m especially proud we got Michelle Bachelet to serve as Executive Director.”
Ms. Bachelet’s desire to make an impact was evident even in her power-packed pink suit. “The decision to establish UN Women reflects global concern with the slow pace of change,” she said at the start of her speech. “It is no longer acceptable to live in a world where young girls are taken out of school and forced into early marriage, where women’s employment opportunities are limited, and where the threat of gender-based violence is a daily reality — at home, in the street, at school and at work.”
The ceremony reflected a diversity of support. No long litany of speeches by government delegates, but inspiration and praise from two Academy Award winning actresses, a Grammy Award winning mega-pop star, a royal princess , a media king, women’s advocates and leaders. Princess Cristina of Spain brought her royal support, and media mogul, Ted Turner—yes, even Ted Turner was supporting women’s rights (after all he is the founder of the UN Foundation, a supporter, among others, of women’s health programs). He greeted the packed hall with a big and folksy, “Wow! What a night!” Makes me proud to be a human being! Every now and then something really good happens, and it happened here at the UN.” Shakira sent a special video message congratulating all and her fellow South American, Michelle Bachelet, on her new role. Nicole Kidman, award winning actress and now upgraded UN Women Goodwill Ambassador (used to be UNIFEM’s goodwill ambassador), linked up for a live, and unfortunately abbreviated video message from San Francisco (another dropped skype call!).
Geena Davis, another Academy-award winning actress was live at the UN, sharing with us her childhood memories of her first acting roles as a little girl, portraying male swashbucklers and cowboys because there weren’t really female heroes on television to portray. “You’d think that times would be different,” she said. She knows the influence of media and is now the founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media to increase the number of girls and women in media aimed at kids and to reduce stereotyping of both males and females. And a rock star in our hearts, our own Bandana Rana, GEAR member and president of Saathi in Nepal, represented civil society at the event “on behalf of millions of women and men who advocated for the creation of UN Women.” She praised the work of the GEAR Campaign, “in full gear” standing tall holding the GEAR message.
Everyone was a “UN Woman” at the end of the night. Bringing on the grand finale was the musical score—the singing of a new song written just for the occasion – “One Woman,” which brought everyone to their feet. Perhaps the company was too stodgy, but at some point Michelle Bachelet left her contingent and ran to join the GEAR women in celebration. All one saw was a flash of pink dashing down the corridor, then arms linked with Charlotte and others.
It is good to take the time to celebrate achievements, to take it in and let the inspirations and celebrations fill up the fuel tanks for the next set of chores, the next piece of work, because as one speaker said, with the creation of UN Women, it is only the beginning.
We know, the work begins now.
Watch the UN Women "Journey of Women's Rights, 1911-2011" video, produced in conjunction with the Official Launch of UN Women: