Institutional Developments and Mechanisms

The power of women's activism can be seen not only in the ways they were able to shape UN policy, but also in the ways they were able to change the structure of international bodies.

The 11 Members of the African Commission adopted a resolution to appoint a Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa at the 25th Ordinary Session in Burundi from April 26 to May 5 in 1999. The Special Rapporteur serves as a resource person for international, regional, and national government departments and organizations. The Special Rapporteur also assists African governments in fact finding missions as well as in the development and implementation of policies to promote and protect the rights of women in Africa. This work is carried out in line with the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa (adopted in 2003) and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Another victory for women's activists came in the form of an appointment by the United Nations Commission on Human rights of a Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences in accordance with a resolution adopted on March 4, 1994 at their first session held after the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna.

The UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) began in 1976 as the Voluntary Fund for the UN Decade for Women to promote the program and support the implementation of the first world conference of women's World Plan of Action in developing countries. In 1984, it was renamed UNIFEM and became an autonomous operational entity working in association with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Headquartered in New York, it had regional and a few national offices and was linked to UN development activities at the country level. UNIFEM was a key player in developing an understanding of violence against women as both a development issue and human rights issue, linking NGOs with government delegates and UN staff, and preparing for other world conferences on women’s issues.

Following the recommendations that emerged from the first UN world conference on women, the United Nations declared the years 1976 to 1985 as the Decade for Women, repeating the call for it to be about equality, development, and peace. This decade was to be devoted to effective and sustained national, regional, and international action to implement the World Plan of Action that was developed from the conference proceedings. The UN Decade for Women proved to be an enormous catalyst for women’s organizing, which provided resources, space, and legitimization for the issue and brought women together both on a regional and global level.

In June 1946, the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) established the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) to prepare recommendations and reports to the UN on promoting women’s equality in all fields and to make recommendations on urgent problems of women’s rights. In 1972, twenty-five years after the CSW was formed, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed that 1975 would be designated as International Women’s Year.