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VSO’s new CEO demands new UN women's agency

As her first public action in office, VSO’s first female Chief Executive Marg Mayne is spearheading the charity’s demand for the UN to establish a new women’s agency.

This International Women’s Day (8 March), she called on Gordon Brown to put pressure on leaders of UN member states to establish an agency with the responsibility, authority and resources to end discrimination against women. The current UN system is failing women because the responsibility for improving their situation is divided across a number of small, poorly-funded and badly-coordinated bodies* that lack power or influence and have little operational capacity on the ground.

Marg Mayne says: ‘The development of women is a top priority for VSO, they hold the key to development around the world and until their skills and time are effectively used we will never live in an equal world. UN member states have been dragging their heels on creating a new women’s agency since 2006 when a high level panel appointed by Kofi Annan and including Gordon Brown, first recommended one be created.’

Next month, the UN Secretariat will present General Assembly members with a paper outlining a number of options for a new agency and will be asked to make a decision in September. VSO is calling for member states to vote for and establish an agency that:

  1. Drives efforts to keep girls in school for longer - For every year a girl goes to school, her family’s income increases by 20%. Currently 2/3 of children not in school are girls.
  2. Ensures women have the right to own land - Rural women produce 50% of the world’s food whilst owning only 1% of the farmland. Women are primarily subsistence farmers but if they had access to resources so they could start growing commercial crops, it is estimated that agricultural productivity would increase by 20% in Africa.
  3. Helps women secure access to healthcare - Over half a million women still die each year from treatable and preventable complications of pregnancy and childbirth, an average of about one death every minute.
  4. Demands changes to policies that discriminate – Just 60% of countries around the world have specific laws against violence to women.
  5. Helps governments implement international agreements on women’s equality – Just 18% of parliamentary seats worldwide are held by women. Achieving gender equality requires that women have an equal role with men in decision-making to the highest levels.
  6. Funds women’s organisations which advise and support local communities – Women’s development is currently hampered by lack of financial support for grassroots organisations running programmes in health, education and livelihoods.

VSO has worked with over 43,000 volunteers at grass-roots level in all sorts of different sectors to provide skills, development and training to people and communities around the world. With over fifty years of experience and knowledge, the evidence shows achieving these six policy changes would genuinely revolutionize the lives of millions of people living in disadvantaged communities.

Speaking of her recent visits to VSO programmes in Kenya and Bangladesh, Marg said: “I’ve seen first hand the devastating impact of women’s inequality but I’ve also witnessed the transforming power women can have when they are given the opportunity.

’In Bangladesh, VSO volunteers work with the poorest communities setting up Citizens’ Forums that help women participate as equal citizens. I attended one of these Citizens’ Forums and a young woman, with her infant daughter at her side, spoke powerfully about the need for a change in the law to prevent future girls being subjected to early marriages. It was fantastic to see this newly self-confident women advocating for such change.

‘But women like her need the weight of the international community behind them. A new UN Women’s Agency would help more women get an education, live healthy, independent lives and have a say in the decisions that affect them.’

*UNIFEM, the Division for the Advancement of Women, INSTRAW and OSAGI

Marg Mayne, CEO of VSO
Marg Mayne has built a career in running large charitable organisations to sound business disciplines, so that they can achieve and sustain their missions. A broad thinker, Marg uses strong networking, partnership building and influencing skills to deliver results.

Marg was taught at an international school in Wales, which saw the birth of her huge commitment to global citizenship. As VSO’s new Chief Executive, Marg’s vision for the development charity is one where it leverages the depth and breadth of its fifty years of grass-roots experience in developing countries to influence policy and create lasting change. VSO volunteers work in all sorts of different sectors sharing their skills to help people fulfil their potential. Translating the unique insights from their work on the ground is essential in order to effect positive, sustainable change and fight poverty.

Prior to VSO, Marg was Acting Director of Public Affairs with Volunteering England, an interim position that saw her leading the development of a strategic response to the UK Commission on the Future of Volunteering. Before this she spent seven years as Director of Finance and Resources with the British Council, the second largest charity in the UK that works in 110 countries around the world. Here she successfully led a radical transformation of the organisation’s global finance and IT functions.

For further information or to arrange an interview with Marg Mayne, please contact Catherine Raynor at VSO on catherine.raynor@vso.org.uk or 020 8780 7343. Out of hours call 07500 918478.


  • VSO is an international development charity that works through volunteers. Since 1958 over 43,000 volunteers have worked in over 140 countries. Today there are over 1,600 international volunteers working in 42 countries around the world.
  • The UN sets global standards for human rights. It is also the only organization that has the authority, capability, resources and credibility with governments to push for changes that will end discrimination against women. Despite numerous international agreements on women’s equality, no UN agency has responsibility for ensuring governments deliver on these promises.
  • UNIFEM (the United Nation’s Fund for Women) is the biggest and most well-known of the current bodies for women but its resources are tiny compared to UN agencies like UNICEF (the United Nation’s Fund for Children). Whilst UNICEF’s budget is $3 billion and has 10,500 staff and UNIFEM exists with fewer than 100 staff and $129 million.
  • VSO has been working closely with other organisations like ACTSA, AIDS-Free World and GEAR (Gender Equality Architecture Reform) that have been lobbying for this change for a number of years. Its current campaign is calling for VSO supporters to contact their local MP and ask them to write to Lord Malloch-Brown the Minister with responsibility for UN affairs. In February – March 2009, VSO will send programme staff to the UN Commission on The Status of Women in New York to support their campaign.
  • DFID demonstrates support for this action in its 2008-2011 Public Service Agreement which states that DFID and the FCO will work to ensure that the international system performs more effectively to promote gender equality and women's rights and empowerment. A key action is to ‘work for an effective outcome to UN reform proposals for a stronger organisation for gender equality that can promote good standards and practice across the UN and its member states’.

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