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Campaign for a Female UN Chief Gathers Momentum

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By J Nastranis | IDN-InDepthNews Analysis


NEW YORK (IDN) - As the selection process for United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s successor begins on April 12 and 14, with member countries’ and partly public participation, a new initiative is warning that if a woman is not elected to the post this year, the next opportunity may not come until 2026. A UN Chief can serve two consecutive five-year terms.

Since 1946, the United Nations has had eight Secretaries-General, all of them men. The “UNSG LIKE ME” campaign is not leaving it to chance but actively campaigning that after eight men – Trygve Halvdan Lie (Norway); Dag Hammarskjöld (Sweden); U Thant (Burma); Kurt Waldheim (Austria); Javier Perez de Cuellar (Peru); Boutros Boutros-Ghali (Egypt); Kofi Annan (Ghana); and the incumbent Ban Ki-moon (South Korea) – it is high time to have a woman lead the UN, thus marking a watershed in the world body's 70-year history.

The campaigners argue that despite being more adversely affected by the impact of war, women continue to be underrepresented in peace talks and international diplomacy. Fifteen years ago, the Security Council therefore unanimously adopted a resolution urging member states and the UN itself to increase women’s participation in all decision-making levels in conflict resolution and peace processes. However, between 1992 and 2011, only 9% of participants at peace talks were women.

The UN recognises that women’s participation is essential to preventing conflict and building peace. Burt research into recent peace deals shows that “peace processes that included women as witnesses, signatories, mediators, and/or negotiators demonstrated a 20% increase in the probability of a peace agreement lasting at least two years. This increases over time, with a 35% increase in the probability of a peace agreement lasting 15 years.”

The initiative stresses that the UN has a responsibility to promote gender equality in its work. “If there are no credible woman candidates for the role of Secretary-General, we have to ask serious questions about how effectively the UN is carrying out its responsibilities to women.”

From Argentina to Ukraine, Bangladesh to Burundi, Peru to Poland, women have been elected as presidents and prime ministers on every continent. It is time that the United Nations caught up with the democratic world and elected its first woman leader.

UNSG LIKE ME finds that out of 72 presidents of the General Assembly, only three were women, signifying a sheer 4% participation of women. Of the 15 current ambassadors on the Security Council, only one is a woman: Samantha Power of the U.S.

The lack of women at negotiating tables is not a problem limited to the Global South. In many cases, European negotiations are even less representative. Peace deals that had no women signatories include the 1995 Dayton Accords for Bosnia and the 2001 Ohrid Peace Agreement for Macedonia.

Seven candidates

Of the seven candidates submitted by their respective governments to the UN General Assembly and Security Council presidents Mogens Lykketoft and Samantha Power respectively by February 29, four are men and three women. Ban’s successor will take up the post on January 1, 2017.

The male candidates are: Srgian Kerim of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; Igor Luksic of Montenegro; Danilo Turk of Slovenia, and former UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres – who also served as the Portuguese Prime Minister.

Female candidates officially confirmed are: UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova of Bulgaria; Vesna Pusic, former Foreign Minister of Croatia, and Natalia Gherman, former Foreign Minister of the Republic of Moldova.

“Other women's names are often discussed in the corridors of the UN, but none have been nominated yet by a government. They include Helen Clark, former New Zealand prime minister and head of the UN Development Program; Chile's President Michelle Bachelet, and Argentine Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra,” reported CBS News.

No less than Gro Harlem Brundtland, a former Prime Minister of Norway, and deputy chair of the Elders, presided over by Ban’s predecessor Kofi Annan, has been pleading for a woman as UN Chief.

“After eight male Secretary-Generals in a row, we believe it is high time for a woman to be chosen. Member States should therefore put forward women candidates. However, when making such an important decision, we cannot afford to pre-emptively exclude candidates from consideration, and the qualities of the individual candidates should be the primary consideration,” she said participating in a UN debate organised by the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT) Group in New York on September 26, 2015.

Brundtland is backed on the government side by a group called The New Group of Friends in Favor of a Woman for Secretary-General of the United Nations. The group's founder, Colombia's UN Ambassador Maria Emma Mejia, is reported to have 53 nations signed on.

According to Pamela Falk of CBS News, two of the biggest contributing governments to the UN budget, Japan and Germany, are part of the initiative favouring a woman Secretary-General. Together with India and Brazil, the two countries want a reform of the UN that would also include an expansion of the five permanent members of the Security Council.

Britain, on the other hand, is reported to be “the only one of the five permanent Security Council members to express an interest in having a woman succeed Ban”.

Going by some of the remarks by the UN Chief coinciding with the International Women’s Day observed on March 8, Ban would appear to be a staunch proponent of a woman taking the post as Secretary-General.

In his statement on March 8, he declared: “We can only address these problems by empowering women as agents of change. For more than nine years, I have put this philosophy into practice at the United Nations. We have shattered so many glass ceilings we created a carpet of shards. Now we are sweeping away the assumptions and bias of the past so women can advance across new frontiers.”

He pointed out that he appointed the first-ever female Force Commander of United Nations troops and “pushed women’s representation at the upper levels of the Organization to historic heights.” Women are now leaders at the heart of peace and security – a realm that was once the exclusive province of men. “When I arrived at the United Nations, there were no women leading our peace missions in the field. Now, nearly a quarter of all United Nations missions are headed by women – far from enough, but still a vast improvement.”

Ban said he had signed nearly 150 letters of appointment to women in positions as Assistant Secretary-General or Under-Secretary-General. Some came from top Government offices with international renown, others have moved on to leadership positions in their home countries. All helped me prove how often a woman is the best person for a job.

Ban added: “To ensure that this very real progress is lasting, we have built a new framework that holds the entire United Nations system accountable. Where once gender equality was seen as a laudable idea, now it is a firm policy. Before, gender sensitivity training was optional; now it is mandatory for ever-greater numbers of United Nations staff. In the past, only a handful of United Nations budgets tracked resources for gender equality and women’s empowerment; now this is standard for nearly one in three, and counting.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 12 March 2016]

IDN is the flagship of International Press Syndicate.

Photo: Eight UN Secretaries-General. Credit: UNSG LIKE ME

2016 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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