The United Nations Development Fund for Women, commonly known as UNIFEM (from the French "Fonds de développement des Nations unies pour la femme") was established in December 1976 originally as the Voluntary Fund for the United Nations Decade for Women in the International Women's Year. Its first director was Dr. Margaret Snyder, Ph.D. It provides financial and technical assistance to innovative programmes and strategies that promote women’s human rights, political participation and economic security. Since 1976 it has supported women’s empowerment and gender equality through its programme offices and links with women’s organizations in the major regions of the world. Its work on gender responsive budgets began in 1996 in Southern Africa and has expanded to include East Africa, Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central America and the Andean region. It has worked to increase awareness throughout the UN system of gender responsive budgets as a tool to strengthen economic governance in all countries.
In January 2011, Unifem will be merged into UN Women, a composite entity of the UN, along with International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW), Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues (OSAGI), and Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW).