Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women
"The battlefields have become our homes; they've become our communities; they've become our villages. But increasingly they have also become women's bodies."
- Noeleen Heyzer
Noeleen Heyzer, Ph.D., is the first executive director from the southern hemisphere to head the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the leading operational agency within the United Nations to promote women's rights and gender equality. Under her leadership, UNIFEM has almost tripled its resources and successfully advocated to put issues affecting women high on the agenda of the U.N. system.
Since joining UNIFEM, Heyzer has pioneered new approaches to strengthening women's economic security and rights in the context of feminized poverty and globalization; promoting women's leadership in conflict resolution, peacebuilding and reconstruction; ending violence against women; and combating HIV/AIDS from a gender perspective. She spearheaded the U.N. inter-agency regional campaigns to end violence against women and was responsible for the establishment of the United Nations Trust Fund in Support of Actions to Eliminate Violence Against Women, which UNIFEM administers.
She played a critical role in the Security Council's adoption of Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, and in ensuring that it is implemented U.N. system-wide in order to make a difference to women's lives on the ground. Her work has taken her to many conflict situations around the world to assess first-hand the impact of war on women and to develop programs of action in partnership with women's organizations, the U.N. system and donors. UNIFEM's efforts in Afghanistan, for example, led to a successful campaign by Afghan women to enshrine their rights in the new Afghan Constitution. UNIFEM's work in Rwanda has resulted in property and land rights for women.
Before joining UNIFEM, Heyzer was a policy advisor to several Asian governments on gender issues, playing a key role in the formulation of national development policies, strategies and programs from a gender perspective. She has done extensive work at the community level with women migrant workers, women in the informal sector and in plantations, young women in prostitution and female workers in free trade zones. She also worked as a textile worker in a free trade zone, organizing women and assisting trade unions to address issues affecting women workers. In 1994 and 1995 she played an important role in the preparatory process for the U.N.'s Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, including organizing over 1,000 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the Asia Pacific region to develop the first ever NGO Action Plan.
Heyzer has been a founding member of numerous regional and international women's networks and has published extensively on gender and development issues, especially economic globalization; international migration and trafficking; gender and trade; and women, peace and security. She has served on numerous boards and advisory committees of international organizations and universities. She chaired numerous U.N. ministerial roundtables including on Gender and HIV/AIDS and on Poverty, HIV/AIDS and Conflict, and has received several awards, including the UNA-Harvard Leadership Award and the Woman of Distinction Award from the UN-NGO Committee on the Status of Women.
Born in Singapore, Heyzer received a B.A. and M.A. from the University of Singapore and a doctorate in social sciences from Cambridge University in the United Kingdom.
Updated on 11/17/2004