In 1976, the UN General Assembly established the Voluntary Fund for the United Nations Decade for Women. The fund was created to provide direct support for women's projects and to promote the inclusion of women in the decision-making processes of mainstream development programs. In 1985 the New York-based organization formally joined the UN family of agencies as UNIFEM.
UNIFEM reports directly to the administrator of UNDP. It is overseen by a five-member Consultative Committee representing UN member states from the world's five principal regional groups. The committee approves large projects and advises on the use of the fund's resources. UNIFEM is administered by a director.
In order to support efforts of the women of the developing world to achieve their objective for economic and social development and for equality, and by so doing to improve the quality of life for women and men alike, the fund supports microprograms run by women in developing countries. For example, UNIFEM estimates that although women grow, process, and market between 50% and 80% of the food consumed in developing countries, governments rarely record these inputs or support them with financial credit. UNIFEM's programs include: training women in improved agricultural techniques; transfer of appropriate food technologies such as grinding mills, graters, oil presses, solar driers, and fish smokers; obtaining for women increased access to credit for seeds, fertilizers, and equipment; and support for microenterprises. UNIFEM works with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in assisting African refugees. At any one time it manages a portfolio of approximately 150 projects and has supported over 750 projects in 100 developing countries.
In 1991 UNIFEM collaborated on the publication of The World's Women 1970–90: The Trends and Statistics. Coauthored by the UN Statistical Office, UNICEF, and UNFPA, this publication gathered statistics and interpreted trends on women, families, and households; women in public life and leadership; the status of education and training for women; health and childbearing; housing, human settlements, and the environment; and women's work and the economy. In 2000, UNIFEM published a report tracking actions of the governments of the world in support of women's rights entitled Progress of the World's Women in 2000. In 2001, UNIFEM contributed analysis to frameworks UN agencies will use in evaluating gender equality. A new edition of Progress of the World's Women, entitled Progress 2002: Volume 2, was released in May 2003. Progress 2002 acknowledges the difficulty in analyzing international progress in the area of women's rights, and discusses the UN's Millennium Development Goals (set at the September 2000 Millennium Summit) in relation to gender equality.
Financing is provided by the governments of both industrialized and developing countries, by nongovernmental organizations, foundations, corporations, private individuals, and from UNIFEM's growing number of national committees.