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General Assembly Second Committee (Economic and Financial) 2023

The General Assembly Second Committee addresses the economic development of Member States and the stability and growth of international financial and trade networks. The Second Committee deals solely with the economic development of Member States and State-to-State assistance. It does not set or discuss the budget of the United Nations, which is addressed only by the Fifth Committee. The Second Committee also does not address social issues that affect development; such issues are considered by the Third Committee. The Second Committee also adheres to the purview guidelines of the General Assembly.

Topic 1: Women in Development

Governments, institutions and organizations involved in international development have come to recognize the importance of women to sustainable and successful development initiatives over the past decades. Women often play key roles in agriculture, education, local governing bodies and the social fabric of communities. However, women face discrimination and obstacles that hamper their ability to participate fully in the economy: the lack of access to education and training and control of capital, technology and land are all recurring issues. As just one example of the impacts, equal access to education can directly increase women’s participation in the labor market, supporting economic development for entire communities. One measure of progress has been women’s literacy; over the past 40 years illiteracy among women has decreased by over 17.5 percent and the gender gap on illiteracy decreased from 16 percent to 7 percent. Yet while women’s literacy rates have improved markedly, worldwide, twice the number of women remain illiterate compared to men. Unfortunately, progress across many measures of gender equality have receded over the past few years due the economic and social shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Women’s inclusion and equality have been foundational principles of the United Nations since its formation. In 1946, the United Nations formed the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) to address protecting women and their rights on a global scale. The Commission called the first World Conference on Women in 1975, which brought thousands of participants together and resulted in a ten-year plan for women’s advancement. The status of women came further into focus with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979. CEDAW is widely seen as the International Bill of Rights for women, and it established a framework for specific action and offers definitions regarding discrimination.

Several World Conferences on Women followed to establish partnerships between the United Nations and non-governmental organizations to continue working towards gender equality; as progress was made over the years, focus shifted from issues like education, employment and health to the inclusion of women in peace and development efforts and gender as a variable in economic policy. With the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, the international community unanimously adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. The declaration emphasized that gender equality is not only a goal itself but an essential element for achieving other global development goals. The international community meets every five years to review progress against the Beijing Declaration, conducting national and regional reviews alongside expert panels and conferences. To support those reviews, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in 1996 expanded the mandate of CSW to include reviewing progress towards the goals of the Beijing Declaration.

Other efforts by the international community increasingly recognized gender gaps remained as the world made immense overall progress in education, poverty and other measures. The 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development culminated in the Rio Declaration, which recognized both the need to increase attention on women and other marginalized groups in development programs and the need to improve data collection to better understand gender gaps. The 1995 World Summit for Social Development emphasized that sustainable economic development could only be achieved with the full participation of women, recognized the disproportionate burden of poverty among women and women-led households, and promoted gender balance and inclusion in political and social institutions. The Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), promulgated in 2000, included a specific goal on gender equality but critics judged the MDGs did not do enough to directly confront gender inequality in both societies and major international economic groups like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

The United Nations continued with this renewed attention and momentum on the topic of women’s rights and their roles in economic development when it established United Nations Women (UN Women) in 2010 to centralize the United Nations’ efforts to promote gender equality and empower women, and other bodies have integrated a gendered view to topics before them. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) plays a key role in incorporating women into development strategies in support of the Sustainable Development Goals, responding to some but not all of the criticisms leveled against the MDGs. In 2018, the body adopted the UNDP Gender Equality Strategy 2018–2021 providing a roadmap to incorporating gender equality in all of UNDP’s work.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic worsened gender inequalities including gender-based violence and the feminization of poverty. The costs of the pandemic were steep for women as they spent over twice as many hours a day as men on unpaid domestic and care work on average, a burden the United Nations noted just before the pandemic. UNDP has promoted policies to recognize and compensate women for unpaid care work, helping establish the Inter-Ministerial Committee for Care Policies in Argentina, where a 2020 report found unpaid care work amounted to nearly 67 billion US dollars, 77 percent of that work being done by women. Not only are women unpaid for this work, it is a daily cost, draining their time from other economic pursuits. Efforts like this supported by the United Nations help provide the data to understand the gender gap and may help illuminate novel policy approaches.

To address these recent challenges and attempt to revitalize efforts against its other goals, UN Women announced its Strategic Plan 2022–2025 to leverage normative support, coordination between United Nations bodies and its own operations to further gender equality and support the SDGs. The plan focuses on four main themes: increasing political participation, women’s economic empowerment, ending gender-based violence, and women in humanitarian support and disaster risk reduction. The General Assembly’s 2019 resolution also promoted efforts to increase work flexibility, facilitate breastfeeding for working mothers, increase women’s access to social protection systems and increase access to and affordability of childcare, all central issues that continue to hamper women’s full participation in the global economy. Looking forward, there remain structural challenges to gender equality in the United Nations itself, other international organizations and many States. Building political will to address those problems, including representation and inclusion, hostile work environments and funding disparities, remains an area for possible future work.

Questions to consider from your country’s perspective:

  • What role should the United Nations play in promoting gender equality in development activities? What steps can it take to improve gender equality in its own development programs?
  • What can we learn from previous programs aimed at addressing gender-based violence and other factors limiting women’s participation in economic activities?
  • How can improved metrics be leveraged to increase understanding and awareness around gender gaps, especially structural problems in the international community’s institutions?


United Nations Documents

Topic II: Promotion of international cooperation to combat illicit financial flows and strengthen good practices on assets return to foster sustainable development

Illicit financial flows (IFF)—defined as the illegal movements of money or capital from one State to another—significantly impact the economic stability of individual States and the global financial system, jeopardizing global peace and security. These funds can include revenue from criminal activites, tax evasion and sanctions evasion and can be used in criminal acts like bribery or terrorism. Illicit financial flows divert funds from States that could be mobilized for sustainable development and create obstacles in the States’ abilities to fund basic services and curb injustice. In 2011, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimated that 1.6 trillion US dollars, or 2.7 percent of the global GDP, was laundered, and less than 1 percent of illicit financial flow was recovered. Left unchecked, illicit financial flows discourage foreign aid and investment, disproportionately affecting developing countries. According to the World Bank, corruption adds 25 percent to the cost of government contracts in developing countries. Identifying, stopping and recovering illicit financial flows has become a significant focus on the United Nations since the 1990s.

Momentum against corruption built rapidly in the 1990s as a result of several global and regional initiatives, complementing the adoption of the 1988 Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, which criminalized money laundering tied to the drug trade. In response to emergent concerns over the negative impacts of corruption, the United Nations hosted a seminar in The Hague in 1989 focused on practical measures and included review of a draft manual on combating corruption. Though focused on corruption, the impacts of illicit trade and drugs were noted for their economic and social impacts, including subversion of State authority, diversion of State resources and depriving States of tax revenue.

Corruption was again raised as a priority at the Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders in Havana in 1990 and then made a topic of debate at the Congress’ ninth session in 1995. This more focused debate shifted from questions about practical measures individual States could undertake to questions about regional and international cooperation and technical assistance. In 1998, the General Assembly Second Committee welcomed multilateral initiatives to combat corruption and requested support for the implementation of national programs to strengthen accountability and transparency. This regional progress and international focus culminated in the 2003 adoption of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), which entered into force in 2005. Chapter V of the Convention dealt with asset recovery, a significant and popular breakthrough that outlined the civil and criminal law frameworks for asset recovery for States and individuals impacted by corruption.

Advancing the focus to targeting IFF more explicitly, in 2003 the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) proposed developing measures to prevent the transfer of illicit funds for those in banking and financial services that encourage transparency, defining funds derived from acts of corruption as proceeds of crime, and returning illicit funds that have been extracted back to countries of origin in line with Chapter V. The World Bank and United Nations collaborated years later in 2007 on the Stolen Asset Recovery (StAR) Initiative to support efforts implementing Chapter V of the Convention against Corruption. The StAR Initiative has built international cooperation and States’ capacities while also directly supporting cases, providing direct assistance to 18 States in 2021 alone. Targeting IFFs has been a focus of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as well, with Goal 16 including a target to significantly reduce illicit financial and arms flows and strengthen the recovery and return of stolen assets and combat all forms of organized crime by 2030.

The United Nations has attempted to address many of these challenges in the last few years, including promoting StAR, advocating for a more rapid return of recovered assets in line with Chapter V and monitoring the growing role of virtual assets in IFFs. The international community has also focused on tax base erosion, in which companies relocate to take advantage of lax tax enforcement or low tax rates. This incentivizes States to lower tax rates in an attempt to lure companies, harming revenue streams available for sustainable development.

Even with this attention and efforts, UNODC recently highlighted regulatory gaps and misaligned incentives that continue to hamper efforts to tackle IFFs. Related obstacles to asset returns and repatriation include the effectiveness of the asset declaration systems, the risks to data security created by the existence of shell banks and privacy in financial intelligence information sharing. This is compounded by the growing cryptocurrency industry, which peaked in November 2021 with an estimated 3 trillion USD capitalization. Cryptocurrencies and other digital assets present new challenges for the global financial system while enabling additional avenues for IFF because of their pseudonymity and ease of transfers to facilitate money launderingInternationally-coherent policy approaches are required to manage and regulate the shifting digital technologies of the global financial system.

Questions to consider from your country’s perspective:

  • How can the United Nations stay abreast of cryptocurrency adoption in combating IFFs?
  • How can Member States combat illicit financial flows that occur via cryptocurrency?
  • How can Member States balance the need to enforce domestic tax laws with the risk that companies will flee to States with lower or less-well-enforced taxes?


United Nations Documents