United Nations Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri. Calling on government and development partners, Puri aims to intensify interest and financial support for gender equality and issues before turning over her post to the newly-appointed Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo by: Mikael Ullén/worldwaterweek / CC BY

The end of the Millennium Development Goals is fast approaching, but gender-related disparities are still on the rise as financial support for women’s rights and women’s empowerment remain lacking, the acting head of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women said a month before turning over to the agency’s new boss.

Lakshmi Puri, deputy executive director of U.N. Women and assistant secretary-general of the world body, will relinquish her post in August to South African Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, appointed earlier this month by secretary-general Ban Ki-moon. Puri has been acting chief of U.N. Women since Michelle Bachelet resigned in March to run for president in her native Chile.

In an exclusive interview with Devex, Puri noted that in her last few weeks in charge “it is time to move women from the sidelines to the center of global development,” calling on development partners to intensify efforts to advocate for gender equality and mainstream gender issues by translating their political commitments into a stronger financial support for the fledgling agency.

Just three years after its creation in 2010, U.N. Women has been struggling with funding woes. In 2012, only about $218 million of the set annual operating budget of $300 million was received from donor governments.

The agency faces a new target of $400 million this year and while more donors came forward at the 2013 annual session of its executive board in June — now counting 94 pledges compared to last year’s 86 — Puri urges governments to come forward with greater contributions.

“Governments should prioritize gender equality and women’s empowerment related program in their development cooperation policies and bilateral and multilateral aid policies … there is a need of sustained efforts and investment,” she said. U.N. Women’s biggest donor in 2012 was Norway with $25 million, followed by Sweden ($19.9 million) and the United Kingdom ($18.8 million). The United States placed ninth ($8.3 million).


U.N. Women released in June a report where it set out recommendations for the anti-poverty framework that will replace the MDGs in 2016, including a standalone goal on gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment and the integration of gender equality concerns among the other priorities and goals in the post-2015 development agenda.

Puri said the standalone goal must have three elements, which are not present in the MDGs:

  • Establishes minimum standards and promote changes in the critical areas that are holding women back

  • Incorporates the expansion of women’s choices and capabilities

  • Mentions the need to ensure that women have a voice within households and in public and private decision-making spheres

“The MDGs did not go far enough in addressing structural issues. For example, the MDG on gender equality and women’s empowerment did not cover fundamental issues, such as women’s right to own property, the unequal division of household and care responsibilities and violence against women and girls. It is now necessary to have a more comprehensive approach,” added Puri.

The agency head praised the proposal of the U.N. High-Level Panel on the post-2015 development agenda to add a standalone goal on gender equality and mainstream the gender perspective in other goals.

Puri however noted that she would have liked to see some other gender issues, such as women in decision-making, and women’s disproportionate responsibility for unpaid care and household work.

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About the author

  • Johanna Morden

    Johanna Morden is a community development worker by training and a global development journalist by profession. As a former Devex staff writer based in Manila, she covered the Asian Development Bank as well as Asia-Pacific's aid community at large. Johanna has written for a variety of international publications, covering social issues, disasters, government, ICT, business, and the law.

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