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On 24 February the UN celebrated the historic launch of UN Women, its newest organisation, with an evening bringing together luminaries from the worlds of politics, entertainment, business, the media, music and film in the UN General Assembly Hall. Joining over 2,000 men and women from across countries and societies I was privileged and moved to represent the UK National Committee of UN Women at such an event.

UN Women combines four previous UN bodies and represents the organisation's most ambitious effort ever to accelerate actions to achieve gender equality. Member States unanimously agreed to create this new agency following longstanding advocacy by women's activists. Around the world, supporters of women's rights have heralded its debut.

Welcoming UN Women as "a powerful new agent for progress on gender equality and women's empowerment," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: "The challenges are great, but I believe that with the new energy, the new momentum and the new authority that UN Women brings, these challenges will be met. True gender equality should be our shared legacy in the 21st Century."

The Secretary-General has appointed former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet to be the first Executive Director of UN Women. Bachelet called the launch event the first of many important milestones in the global pursuit of gender equality, and stressed that the decision to establish UN Women reflected ongoing frustration with the slow pace of change. "Think of how much more we can do once women are fully empowered as active agents of change and progress within their societies," she said. "Historically, we are at a point of great potential and change for women. Now we must seize that opportunity."

The National Committee is the local representative, voice and champion for UN Women in the UK. We are dedicated to supporting its mission and work for gender equality and the empowerment of women. As the organisation's national representative, we actively collaborate with other like-minded organisations, offer a focus for, and create opportunities to support, UN Women activities. We are part of a group of 18 national committees around the world who raise awareness and education of gender issues, lobby for financial support and fundraise for specific UN Women projects.

Why do we do it? Because those who work in the field of international development know that the face of poverty is female. The stark inequalities in economic empowerment, land and property ownership, educational opportunities and health provision undermine opportunities for women and girls to enjoy a fulfilling life and to contribute equally to their society. This is not just a women's issue. It is a human rights issue. By any measures it makes sense for a society to ensure 50% of its resources, women, play an equal role in the future of their society.

Please visit our new website for more information on the work of UN Women UK : www.unwomenuk.org


Jan Grasty is President of the UK National Committee for UN Women