UNITED NATIONS. NOELEEN HEYZER, FIRST WOMAN TO TAKE OVER U.N.'S ASIA/PACIFIC COMMISSION

 

NOELEEN HEYZER, FIRST WOMAN TO TAKE OVER U.N.'S ASIA/PACIFIC COMMISSION

15 MARCH 2008

Since taking over her new post last July as the Executive Secretary of the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), Noeleen Heyzer proved the wisdom of that choice by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. A workaholic even by workaholic standards, Ms. Heyzer is the first woman to have taken that post. Before that, she was the first executive director from the "South" to head the U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). In all her tasks, Noeleen displays total dedication and enlightened commitment to the principles of the U.N. Charter. More to the point, she sharpened the focus on participatory partnerships with civic society, influential individuals, and helpful groups, as well as with her colleagues, all of whom hold her in high regard.

As the executive director of UNIFEM, the leading operational agency within the United Nations to promote women's empowerment and gender equality, Dr. Heyzer has worked on strengthening women's economic security and rights; promoting women's leadership in conflict resolution, peace-building and governance; ending violence against women; and combating HIV/AIDS from a gender perspective. She played a critical role in the Security Council's adoption of Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security and undertook extensive missions to conflict-affected countries worldwide to ensure its implementation to make a difference in women's lives on the ground.

Through her leadership, UNIFEM has assisted countries to formulate and implement legislation and policies to realize women's security and rights. This has led, for example, to changes in inheritance laws for women, better working conditions for migrant workers, the inclusion of women as full citizens in the constitution of Afghanistan and as full participants in several peace negotiations and electoral processes. Organizationally, UNIFEM has undergone a comprehensive restructuring to maximize performance, build knowledge and partnerships to deliver results. It has also increased its resources five-fold, strengthened its ground presence and successfully advocated to put issues affecting women high on the agenda of the U.N. system.

Dr. Heyzer has served on numerous boards and advisory committees of international organizations including, the UNDP Human Development Report, the Commission on Globalization of the State of the World's Forum, the UNDP Eminent Persons Group on Trade and Sustainable Development. She was a founding member of numerous international women's networks and has published extensively on gender and development issues, especially economic globalization, international migration and trafficking, women, peace and security. She is currently the convener of the International Women's Commission for a Just and Sustainable Palestinian-Israeli Peace, serves on the Board of President Ahtisaari's Crisis Management Initiative, and is a member of the High-Level Commonwealth Commission on Respect and Understanding chaired by Nobel Prize Laureate Prof. Amartya Sen. Dr. Heyzer is a New Millennium Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Columbia University and is chairperson of the Consortium Advisory Group of the Research Programme on Women's Empowerment in Muslim Contexts: Gender, Poverty and Democratisation from the Inside Out. She has also successfully mobilized private sector partners such as Macy's, CISCO, Citigroup and the Calvert Investment Fund to provide high value employment and market access to women and youth in conflict and tsunami affected areas, and to the Arab States, as well as to set new standards for ethical investment.

Born in Singapore, she received a B.A. and an M.A. from the University of Singapore and a doctorate in social sciences from Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. She has received several awards for leadership including the UNA-Harvard Leadership Award, the Woman of Distinction Award from the UN-NGO Committee on the Status of Women, NCRW "Women Who Make a Difference" Award in 2005 and the Dag Hammarskj÷ld medal in 2004 given to "a person who has promoted, in action and spirit, the values that inspired Dag Hammarskj÷ld as Secretary General of the United Nations and generally in his life: compassion, humanism and commitment to international solidarity and cooperation."