Development, and in particular, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), are indelibly linked to questions of gender with gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls underpinning Goal 5. Despite the UN Charter clearly laying the basis for gender equality it is absent from the Organisation. This is a major issue for the UN as it depends upon its own legitimacy to lead across many global issues including on gender and development. Without gender equality too many of the UN’s activities and too much of its work remains predominantly – if not entirely- informed and spearheaded by the male perspective. Centring on the Secretariat and SDG implementation, the Network is an innovative intervention in understanding how gender impacts on the UN’s activities particularly its leadership of the SDGs and development.

Through the SDGs the UN encourages states to uphold women’s rights, eliminate gender discrimination, and to achieve gender equality. Yet, the UN fails to give effect to those principles within the Organisation. This has to change. In 2016 the UN admitted that 83% of its entities have failed to hit gender targets with no progress since 2012 and only 33% possessed a gender unit or equivalent to aid in achieving gender mainstreaming and equality. The UN Gender Network brings academics, civil society, member states and the UN Secretariat itself together in a spirit of conversation and collaboration. It will achieve a deep understanding of the causes and impact of gender inequality within the UN and the impact this has on its leadership of the SDGs and broader development policy. The collaboration of academics led by the PI and Co-I, its Network Partners AIDsFreeWorld, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and civil society as well as Network participants will lead to the development of an agenda for UN policy reform that will directly impact upon the implementation of the SDGs in the Global South.

An emerging discourse within academia suggests that collaborative work around specific themes has much to offer in advancing understanding of gender inequality within the UN. State delegation support is a necessity if change is to occur and thus the role of the FCO is key to bringing a wider array of states, particularly those in the Global South, on board to push for UN reform. Collaboration enables all parties to offer cross-sectoral feedback to decision-makers; a process of joint advocacy that increases the likelihood of policy and organisational change. The impact of such collaborative activities can be seen with the steps already taken in the creation of UN Women and the Focal Point for Women by project partners.

The UN Gender network aims to: 1. establish a transnational UN Gender network that includes academics, civil society, the UN and state delegations through a series of workshops and an online community; 2. Explore how long-term collaborative activities can be fostered that can bring about effective policy change within the Organisation; 3. Harness expertise from the academic and civil society, state delegations and the UN itself in the co-production of a research project agenda to understand the cause and impact of gender inequality within the UN and its impact upon the UN’s leadership and legitimacy in the operationalisation of the SDGs; 4. Use the network’s activities as a platform from which to develop targeted policy proposals alongside specific research collaborations that make effective policy recommendations to the UN to ensure long term change and to underpin the implementation of the SDGs, particularly Goal 5 and; 5. ¬†Ensure the network’s sustainability through the active participation of postgraduate and early career researchers alongside establishing effective collaboration amongst the transnational participants. Stakeholders will be able to utilise the Network’s reform proposals and research to ensure the SDGs are better placed to achieve gender equality and other development goals.