Women's Justice at the United Nations

Guided by our principles, Unitarian Universalists are called to advocate for international human rights, promoting the inherent worth and dignity of every person. The Women’s Justice Initiative raises awareness and works to promote equal rights and opportunities for all people regardless of gender identity or expression. Through this program, the Unitarian Universalist Office at the United Nations (UU@UN) supports and advocates for the global implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and subsequent resolutions which call for a greater role for women in all aspects of peace and security, as well as other UN initiatives as described below.

In order to effectively accomplish our goals within this program, the UU@UN is in coalition with progressive religious and secular groups within the community of non-governmental organizations at the UN that support sexual and reproductive health and rights. The coalition aims to ensure that all women have access to safe childbirth procedures, the ability to control when they get pregnant, and have access to sexual health education. The UU@UN is extremely active at the UN on advocating for the equal rights of people of all gender identities and expressions, holding the UN to a higher standard as far as gender equity goes.

Gender Equity at the United Nations

The work of the United Nations is often about establishing norms and standards. Sometimes this involves establishing rules for nations to adopt, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); or setting goals for nations to achieve, such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Other times the UN’s work is more direct, such as the initiatives of agencies such as the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) or the UN Population Fund.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is a United Nations organization committed to advocating for and supporting sexual and reproductive health. UNFPA’s mission is to deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe, and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.

The United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres committed in his oath of office in 2017 to work towards achieving gender parity across the UN system, with a target year of 2026. As of September 2019, 21 of the 72 entities within the UN Secretariat so far have achieved this. The gender breakdown for UN staff overall, however, remains disjointed at 40% female and 60% male. It is notable that there is quite a difference between field and non-field entities (blue = female & grey = male):

Graphic depicting the progress of field v. nonfield entities within the UN towards achieving gender parity. It shows that 30% of field staff and 47% of non-field staff are women.

Graphic from UN Secretariat Gender Parity Dashboard illustrating the progress towards gender parity for United Nations field staff v. non-field staff. Image data is current as of September 2019.

The United Nations publicly tracks its progress towards gender parity in the Secretariat staff: a dashboard on their website can be filtered by specific entity and by professional level.

An inter-agency working group at the UN recently created guidelines for gender-inclusive language to be used by UN staff in all communications “in a way that does not discriminate against a particular sex, social gender, or gender identity, and does not perpetuate gender stereotypes.” Separate guidelines were of course created for each of the six official languages of the UN, and it is noted that the resources will be revised and updated to reflect new feedback, suggestions, and changes in the use of language. The inter-agency working group invites feedback.

View the Guidelines for gender-inclusive language in English.

Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)

As one of the first actions of the United Nations, in June 1946 its Economic and Social Council established a Commission on the Status of Women which would be charged with promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women. The Commission holds an annual session in New York City where issues pertaining to gender are assessed and discussed.


The Convention of the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was adopted by the UN in 1979. Colloquially called the International Bill of the Rights for Women, CEDAW explicitly defines discrimination against women, targets culture and tradition as influential forces shaping gender roles, and affirms reproductive rights for women. While CEDAW is not federally adopted in the United States, several cities across the U.S. are taking action themselves to adopt CEDAW as a city ordinance. Find out more about how you can help your community adopt CEDAW on page 19.

Beijing Conference on Women

The Fourth World Conference on Women was held in Beijing in 1995 and resulted in the Beijing Platform for Action, which asserted women’s rights as human rights and committed to specific actions to ensure those rights are respected, protected, and fulfilled.


UN Security Council Resolution 1325, a resolution on Women, Peace, and Security, was adopted unanimously by the Security Council on October 31, 2000. SCR1325 was the Security Council’s first action to reflect the unique and disproportionate impact of armed conflict on women. Key provisions of SCR1325 include:

  • Increased participation and representation of women at all levels of decision-making
  • Attention to specific protection needs of women and girls in conflict
  • Gender perspective in post-conflict processes
  • Gender perspective in UN programming, reporting, and in Security Council missions
  • Gender perspective & training in UN peace support operations

The changes brought about by the Women, Peace, and Security agenda have a positive impact on the lives of people of all genders, not just women, on the ground. The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom notes in an overview of the resolution that SRC1325’s 3 pillars – protection, prevention, and participation – “are critical in respecting human rights and dignity and in tackling the root causes of conflict to create sustainable peace.”

UN Women

The UN General Assembly voted in July 2010 to establish a single body whose task would be to accelerate progress in achieving gender equality. That new entity was called UN Women (its full name is “UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women”) and was formed by merging four former UN bodies that were concerned with women & gender issues.