With Emma Watson’s recent efforts as a Goodwill Ambassador with the HeForShe campaign, UN Women — a branch of the United Nations dedicated to the promotion of gender equality — has gained mass media attention. Described back in September as “game-changing” by Vanity Fair, the HeForShe campaign encourages men to recognize that women’s rights are human rights and that feminism isn’t just a women’s issue.

The official logo of the United Nations, an international organization that was formed in 1945.
The official logo of the United Nations, an international organization that was formed in 1945.

But even though the HeForShe campaign has already impacted thousands of men and women alike worldwide, it barely scrapes the surface of what UN Women is all about. Emma Watson is just one of four UN Women Goodwill Ambassadors. The others are Academy Award-winning actress Nicole Kidman; her Royal Highness Princess Bajrakitiyabha Mahidol of Thailand; and director, singer, and actor Farhan Akhtar.

Nicole Kidman is a veteran to the job since she’s been a Goodwill Ambassador since 2006. The UN Women website describes the title as celebrities or persons of international importance using “their names, talents, and time to support UN programmes.” Her focus is on violence against women, and she is the spokesperson to the UN’s UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign.

Princess Bajrakitiyabha — besides having one of the coolest first names ever and being a real live princess — is a Cornell graduate, has her PhD in law, and acts as Thailand’s ambassador to Austria. She’s been at work in UN Women since 2008 when she began her partnership with the UN, her Say NO to Violence against Women campaign, and her initiative to help pregnant prison inmates and their children.

Princess Bahjrakitiyabha giving a speech at the New York UN headquarters in 2010.  By Government of Thailand ([1]  Uploaded by 2T) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Princess Bajrakitiyabha giving a speech at the New York UN headquarters in 2010. Photo by Abhisit Vejjajiva (Photographer attached to the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand)/ CC BY 2.0
Farhan Akhtar is a recent recruit to the team and is still the only man to act as UN Women Goodwill Ambassador. He joined in November 2014 as the Ambassador to South Asia, but he’s long been a supporter of women’s rights. After a female coworker at his film company was sexually assaulted and murdered, he created Men Against Rape and Discrimination (MARD), which aims to “create awareness amongst men to instill gender equality and respect towards women.”

UN Women as a whole was created in July 2010 in order to “lead and coordinate the UN system’s work on gender equality.” It merged four previously separate UN branches: the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW), the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI), and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). Since all of these had fairly similar functions (I mean, three out of four of them contain the words “Advancement of Women”), they were combined into a single organization dedicated to achieving worldwide equality for women.

While the current endeavors of UN Women are too numerous and varied to list, one of its current projects is Beijing+20, which honors the 20-year anniversary of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, one of the major guiding documents of UN Women. Beijing+20 is a series of intergovernmental events held in 2014 and 2015, a number of which have already occurred. There are still several that are either scheduled for the first half of 2015 or are still in the planning stages.

The key part of UN Women is not just its focus on women’s issues, but its realization that empowering women can change all aspects of the world for the better. It focuses on the role of women in the recovery from the Ebola crisis, in the fight against Boko Haram, and in combating climate change. Its efforts are far and wide, so check out the full website here!

And for college students in their final year of a bachelor’s degree, students currently earning a master’s or doctorate, or recent graduates who want to get involved, here’s a link to the UN Women internships page!

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