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Legislative basis for the UN Mandate on Representation of Women in the United Nations System

Focal Point for Women

As a standard setting organization, the United Nations feels a particular responsibility to achieve gender parity and gender equality within its own system. It strives to lead by example, although several challenges remain to be addressed and overcome. 

Several instruments provide the legislative basis for the United Nations mandate for Gender Equality, particularly with respect to representation of women. These are listed below.

Charter of the United Nations (Articles 8 and 101)
The concept of Gender Equality has been established within the core guiding principles of the United Nations, and unequivocally reflects a commitment to the equality of men and women in all aspects of the human endeavour. More specifically, the Charter of the United Nations (Articles 8 and 101) stipulates that there shall be no restrictions on the eligibility of men and women to participate in every capacity and under conditions of equality in its principal and subsidiary organs.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Articles 2 and 23)
States that there can be no distinction or discrimination on the basis of gender.

Beijing Platform for Action

Section on Women in Decision-Making

Strategic Objective G.1 Take measures to ensure women's equal access to and full participation in power structures and decision-making

Actions to be taken

193. By the United Nations:

(a)Implement existing and adopt new employment policies and measures in order to achieve overall gender equality, particularly at the Professional level and above, by the year 2000, with due regard to the importance of recruiting staff on as wide a geographical basis as possible, in conformity with Article 101, paragraph 3, of the Charter of the United Nations;

(b)Develop mechanisms to nominate women candidates for appointment to senior posts in the United Nations, the specialized agencies and other organizations and bodies of the United Nations system;

(c)Continue to collect and disseminate quantitative and qualitative data on women and men in decision-making and analyse their differential impact on decision-making and monitor progress towards achieving the Secretary-General's target of having women hold 50 per cent of managerial and decision-making positions by the year 2000.

Institutional Arrangements

311. Action must be taken by the United Nations and other international organizations to eliminate barriers to the advancement of women within their organizations in accordance with the Platform for Action.

UNITED NATIONS SECRETARIAT Office of the Secretary-General

326. Secretary-General is requested to assume responsibility for coordination of policy within the United Nations for the implementation of the Platform for Action and for the mainstreaming of a system-wide gender perspective in all activities of the United Nations, taking into account the mandates of the bodies concerned. The Secretary-General should consider specific measures for ensuring effective coordination in the implementation of these objectives. To this end, the Secretary-General is invited to establish a high-level post in the office of the Secretary-General, using existing human and financial resources, to act as the Secretary-General's adviser on gender issues and to help ensure system-wide implementation of the Platform for Action in close cooperation with the Division for the Advancement of Women.

Establishment of the Office of the Special Adviser for Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women (OSAGI)

Consequent to the call of the Beijing Platform for Action, the Secretary-General established, in 1997, the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women at the Assistant-Secretary General Level (OSAGI) reporting to the office of the Secretary-General.

OSAGI, was charged with oversight and monitoring of the mandates of the representation of women and gender mainstreaming, respectively. OSAGI was endowed with the posts of the Focal Point for Women and the Principal Officer, both posts at the D-1 levels, for the two separate mandates, initially limited to the Secretariat of the United Nations but in the year 2001 expanded to cover the entire UN system. Following Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, OSAGI was additionally charged with a similar mandate for this area as well.

Evolving Gender Targets as set by the General Assembly of the United Nations

Gender targets were set by the General Assembly initially in 1986. Subsequently they experienced a series of evolutions over a 20 year period till the Beijing Platform for Action established the goal of 50:50 for the Professional level and above. The evolution of these targets is shown below.

Resolutions of the General Assembly of the United Nations

Commitments by the General Assembly to Gender Parity

Date Adopted


Goal for Representation of Women


11 Dec. 1986


30% posts subject to geographic distribution


21 Dec. 1990


35% posts subject to geographic distribution, particularly in senior policy-level and decision-making posts


25% posts ranked D-1 and above


1 Feb. 1996


50/50 in managerial and decision-making positions


31 Jan. 1997


50/50 gender distribution at all levels


6 Feb. 1998


50/50 reaffirmed for all posts


8 Feb.  2001


50/50 in senior and policy-making levels

The very near future

19 Feb. 2004


50/50 for SG appointed special representatives and special envoys


10 Feb. 2005


50/50 reaffirmed for all posts

The very near future

07 Feb. 2007


50/50 reaffirmed for all posts


14 Feb. 2008


50/50  reaffirmed for all posts


4 Feb. 2009


50/50  reaffirmed for all posts


18 Feb. 2010 64/141 50/50  reaffirmed for all posts NA

Source: OSAGI 10/2010.  

The goal of gender balance applies throughout the United Nations system, and in every department, office or regional commission, overall and at each level. It applies not only to posts subject to geographical distribution but to all categories of posts, without regard to the type or duration of the appointment, or the series of Staff Rules under which the appointment is made, or the source of funding.

The UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women - UN Women (to come into effect on 1 January 2011)

A/RES/64/289 [ A | C | E | F | R | S ] on System wide Coherence created a new UN entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, also known as UN Women. It states:

Strengthening the institutional arrangements for support of gender equality and
the empowerment of women.

53. Further decides that the mandate and functions of the Entity ( UN Women) shall consist of the consolidated mandates and functions of the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, the Division for the Advancement of Women, the United Nations Development Fund for Women and the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women, with the additional role of leading, coordinating and promoting the accountability of the United Nations system in its work on gender equality and the empowerment of women, and that any new mandates shall be subject to approval by intergovernmental process; (Page 9 of A/RES/289)

A/64/588 [ A | C | E | F | R | S ] Comprehensive proposal for the Composite Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women

The functions of the entity with regard to the improvement of the status of women are described in the Secretary-General’s Report A/64/588, on which the Resolution A/RES/64/289 relied in creating the new entity.  It states:

III. Functions and structure

6. The composite entity will have eight functions, as outlined in the Deputy
Secretary-General’s papers of August 2007 and July 2008. These are the following:

 (h) Monitor and report on system-wide compliance with intergovernmental
mandates on gender balance, including at the senior and decision-making levels. (Page 6 of A/64/588)

C. Headquarters-level functions
11. At Headquarters, the composite entity will provide substantive support to
Inter-governmental processes. In addition to other global functions, it will support
regional and country-level activities. For its key Headquarters functions, the
composite entity will:

(e) Monitor and report on United Nations system compliance and efforts
to develop and apply internal United Nations gender equality policies, including
achieving gender balance, eliminating harassment and promoting work-life
balance; (Page 10 of A/64/588)



October 18, 2010