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International Women’s Day: UNV Executive Coordinator’s statement

In Sudan, more than 1000 women and men from several organizations paraded through the main streets of Nyala to speak out against gender-based violence during the 16-day campaign which ran from 25 November to 10 December 2011.  (UNV, 2011)In Sudan, more than 1000 women and men from several organizations paraded through the main streets of Nyala to speak out against gender-based violence during the 16-day campaign which ran from 25 November to 10 December 2011. (UNV, 2011)
08 March 2012

Bonn, Germany: According to the first State of the World’s Volunteerism Report, published in 2011 by United Nations Volunteer (UNV) programme, women and men volunteer for about the same number of hours.  Yet far from signalling gender equity, the report also states that “volunteering reinforces gender roles” and in many countries women’s voluntary action, for example in the volunteer care of children and older persons and hospice work, “was viewed as an extension of their maternal role.”  (SWVR Ch. 1 page 10)

Notwithstanding these findings, for those of us working in the arenas of peace and sustainable development, volunteerism is increasingly a means for marginalized people, including women and youth, to take their first steps on the road to social inclusion and full economic, educational and political participation in their communities’ mainstream.

Today, International Women’s Day gives us the chance to recognize the invaluable contributions women make around the world, and mark the challenges we still have to meet to achieve gender equality.  We must also celebrate the gains that have been made.

This is particularly true for UNV.  In 1997, when UN Volunteer Olufunmilayo (Fummi) Balogun, from Nigeria, reported for duty in Malawi as the first UNV Gender Specialist, she was a pioneer.  By 2000, she was joined by 20 more UNV Gender Specialists, including one man.  In 2011, 60 national and international UN Volunteers were serving in 25 countries as UNV Gender Specialists.

Representing 31 nationalities, these women and men, carried out a range of peace and development assignments aimed at furthering gender equality.  These included combatting gender violence, addressing gender in HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, as well as promoting gender and human rights, and gender mainstreaming and democratic governance.

UNV, through UN Volunteer assignments and collaborative projects, contributes to the inclusion of women in decision-making, promotes gender sensitive services and policies, and works to prevent sexual and gender based violence.

Moreover, in 2011, UNV made significant progress towards gender balance in its own recruitment.  As a result, 46 per cent of all international UN Volunteers recruited in 2011 are women.

UNV is continuously working for the empowerment of women and youth as a vital element to attain sustainable development.  What is more, UNV recognizes that it is often women who have a strong impact in changing the conditions around them.  They often do this by engaging as volunteers in their communities.  UNV promotes volunteerism as a means for women to gain the skills, experience and confidence to voice their concerns, and to take their rightful places among the decision-makers in their communities.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently highlighted the importance of addressing the needs of women and young people to ensure their full participation in peace-building and social and economic development in his action agenda for the next five years.  Working with and for women and young people is one of his five priorities.  UNV cooperates with its civil partners as well as the United Nations to build the capacities of women and youth to ensure their full participation in their communities.  We will continue to do so.  The commitment of UNV to provide women with a greater say in their destiny is absolute.

UNV is administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)