An Introduction to the United Nations




The United Nations (UN) is an intergovernmental organization which was established on the 24th of October, 1945, to promote international cooperation. The UN was a replacement for the ineffective League of Nations following the Second World War. It works to maintain human rights, international peace and security, develop friendly relations among nations, promote social progress, and better the living standards of people.

The UN had 51 member states when it was established; now 193 countries are member states. The headquarters of the United Nations is located in New York City and further main offices are located in Geneva, Nairobi, and Vienna. The organization is financed by assessed and voluntary contributions from its member states.


The UN is made up of 6 bodies:
The General Assembly:

The General Assembly is the main deliberative organ of the UN and is composed of representatives of all Member States. The work of the United Nations year-round derives largely from the mandates given by the General Assembly.  There are 6 main committees of the General Assembly: (1) Disarmament and International Security, (2) Economic and Financial, (3) Social, Humanitarian and Cultural, (4) Special Political and Decolonization, (5) Administrative and Budgetary, and (6) Legal.

The Security Council:

The Security Council works to maintain peace and security among countries. While other bodies of the United Nations can only make “recommendations” to member states, the Security Council has the power to make binding decisions that member states have agreed to carry out under the terms of Article 25 of the UN Charter.  The Security Council is made up of fifteen member states, consisting of five permanent members—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—and ten non-permanent members— Angola (term ending 2016), Chad (2015), Chile (2015), Jordan (2015), Lithuania (2015), Malaysia (2016), New Zealand (2016), Nigeria (2015), Spain (2016), Venezuela (2016).  The ten temporary seats on the Council are held for two-year terms, with member states voted in by the General Assembly on a regular basis. The non-permanent members represent all the regions of the world.  The five permanent members hold veto power over UN resolutions, allowing a permanent member to block adoption of a resolution.

The Economic and Social Council:

The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) is the principal body for coordination, policy review, policy dialogue and recommendations on economic, social and environmental issues, as well as for implementation of the internationally agreed development goals. ECOSOC has 54 members (representing 54 member states), which are elected by the General Assembly for a three-year term. ECOSOC serves as the central mechanism for the activities of the United Nations system and its specialized agencies, and supervises the subsidiary and expert bodies in the economic, social and environmental fields. ECOSOC engages a wide variety of stakeholders – policymakers, parliamentarians, academics, major groups, foundations, business sector representatives, and 3,200+ registered non-governmental organizations – in a productive dialogue on sustainable development through a programmatic cycle of meetings. The work of the Council is guided by an issue-based approach, and there is an annual theme that accompanies each programmatic cycle, ensuring a sustained and focused discussion among multiple stakeholders.

The Secretariat:

The Secretariat is a body made up of an international staff (approximately 43,000 people) working in duty stations around the world to carry out the diverse day-to-day work of the Organization. It services the other principal bodies of the United Nations and administers the programs and policies laid down by them. The various tasks of the Secretariat range from administering peacekeeping operations to mediating international disputes, from surveying economic and social trends and problems to preparing studies on human rights and sustainable development. Secretariat staff also inform the world’s communications media about the work of the United Nations, organize international conferences on issues of worldwide concern, and interpret speeches and translate documents into the Organization’s official languages. At the head of the Secretariat is the Secretary-General, who is appointed by the General Assembly on the recommendation of the Security Council for a five-year, renewable term. Currently, the Secretary-General is Ban Ki-moon.

The International Court of Justice:

The International Court of Justice (ICJ), located in The Hague, the Netherlands, is the primary judicial organ of the UN. The ICJ is composed of 15 judges who serve 9-year terms and are appointed by the General Assembly. Every sitting judge must be from a different nation. The ICJ’s primary purpose is to adjudicate disputes among states. The court hears cases related to war crimes, illegal state interference, and ethnic cleansing, among other issues. The ICJ can also be called upon by other UN organs to provide advisory opinions.

The Trusteeship Council:

The United Nations Trusteeship Council was established to help ensure that trust territories were administered in the best interests of their inhabitants and of international peace and security. The trust territories—most of them former mandates of the League of Nations or territories taken from nations defeated at the end of World War II—have all now attained self-government or independence, either as separate nations or by joining neighboring independent countries.  Its mission fulfilled, the Trusteeship Council suspended its operation on November 1st, 1994. Under the United Nations Charter, it continues to exist on paper, but its future role and existence remain uncertain.


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An Introduction to the Commission on the Status of Women:


The Commission on the Status of Women (“the CSW” or “the Commission”) is a functional commission of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women. Every year, delegates from Member States gather at United Nations Headquarters in New York to evaluate progress on gender equality, identify challenges, set global standards, and formulate concrete policies to promote gender equality and advancement of women worldwide.

The Commission was established by ECOSOC on June 21st, 1946 with the aim to prepare recommendations and reports to the Council on promoting women’s rights in political, economic, civil, social, and educational fields. The Commission also makes recommendations to the Council on urgent problems requiring immediate attention in the field of women’s rights.  A brief history of the CSW can be found here.

CSW 59 banner





CSW 59 – Beijing +20:

At its fifty-ninth session in 2015, the Commission on the Status of Women will focus on two thematic issues:

  • Review of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action twenty years after its adoption including current challenges that affect its implementation and achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women. The Commission will also review the outcomes of the 23rd special session of the General Assembly, the first five-year assessment conducted after the adoption of the Platform for Action, which highlighted further actions and initiatives.
  • Address opportunities for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women in the post-2015 development agenda.


Visit the official CSW 59 website








The Beijing Platform for Action:

The Fourth World Conference on Women: Action for Equality, Development and Peace was convened by the United Nations on the 4–15th of September, 1995 in Beijing, China. The Beijing Platform for Action is the document that resulted from this meeting. The Platform for Action sets out measures for national and international action for the advancement of women. When implemented, the Platform for Action enhances the social, economic and political empowerment of women, improves their health and their access to relevant education, and promotes their human rights. The action plan sets time-specific targets, committing nations to carry out concrete actions in such areas as health, education, decision-making, and legal reforms with the ultimate goal of eliminating all forms of discrimination against women in both public and private life.

Section L is the section of the Beijing Platform for Action that specifically pertains to the girl child.

L.1     Eliminate all forms of discrimination against the girl-child.

L.2     Eliminate negative cultural attitudes and practices against girls.

L.3     Promote and protect the rights of the girl-child and increase awareness of her needs and potential.

L.4     Eliminate discrimination against girls in education, skills development and training.

L.5     Eliminate discrimination against girls in health and nutrition.

L.6     Eliminate the economic exploitation of child labor and protect young girls at work.

L.7     Eradicate violence against the girl-child.

L.8     Promote the girl-child’s awareness of and participation in social, economic and political life.

L.9     Strengthen the role of the family in improving the status of the girl-child.


Read the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action

Visit the official Beijing+20 website

Sustainable Development





The Post-2015 Development Agenda:

The current UN development agenda is centered on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that were officially established following the Millennium Summit of the UN in 2000. The MDGs encapsulate eight globally agreed goals in the areas of poverty alleviation, education, gender equality and empowerment of women, child and maternal health, environmental sustainability, reducing HIV/AIDS and communicable diseases, and building a global partnership for development. The MDG’s overall target date is 2015.

The Post-2015 Development Agenda refers to a process led by the UN that aims to help define the future global development framework that will succeed the MDGs. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will build upon the Millennium Development Goals and are aimed to be action-oriented, concise, easy to communicate, limited in number, aspirational, global in nature, and universally applicable to all countries while taking into account different national realities, capacities and levels of development, and respecting national policies and priorities.  The Outcome Document of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals is being used as the basis of the intergovernmental negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda.  Currently, the proposed Sustainable Development Goals are:

  • Goal 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere
  • Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
  • Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
  • Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
  • Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  • Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
  • Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
  • Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  • Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
  • Goal 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries
  • Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
  • Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
  • Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
  • Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
  • Goal 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
  • Goal 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
  • Goal 17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development


Visit the official UN Sustainable Development website

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Other documents to be familiar with:


The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women:

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly. CEDAW defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination.

The Convention defines discrimination against women as “…any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.”

The Convention is the only human rights treaty which affirms the reproductive rights of women and targets culture and tradition as influential forces shaping gender roles and family relations. Countries that have ratified or acceded to the Convention are legally bound to put its provisions into practice. They are also committed to submit national reports, at least once every four years, on measures they have taken to comply with their treaty obligations.

The only countries that have NOT ratified CEDAW are: the United States, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Palau, Tonga, and the Holy See.

Read CEDAW here

The Convention on the Rights of the Child:

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is a human rights treaty, which sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health, and cultural rights of children.

Countries that have ratified the CRC are required to appear before the committee and be evaluated on their progress towards implementing it. Compliance is monitored by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which is composed of members from countries around the world. Once a year, the Committee submits a report to the Third Committee of the  General Assembly, and the General Assembly adopts a Resolution on the Rights of the Child.

Currently, 194 countries are party to the CRC, including every member of the United Nations except Somalia, South Sudan, and the United States.  On 20 January 2015, Somalia ratified the convention and the process will be finalized once the Government of Somalia deposits the instrument of ratification at UN Headquarters in New York. South Sudan has started its domestic process to become a party to the treaty.

Read the CRC here


Girls’ Statement from CSW 58:

Each year during the Commission, girl delegates write a statement that is given at the UN.  This statement represents the perspective of girls on the priority theme.

Read last year’s Girls’ Statement on the MDGs here or watch it below:


Last but not least…

Reflections from former CSW delegates from around the world, including many Loretto delegates have been featured in the short film “Bringing it Home: Youth Delegates Share the Impact of the CSW,” which was shown at CSW 57. Watch it here: