• by Thalif Deen (United Nations)
  • Interpress service

Decades of progress are disappearing before our eyes, and gender equality is increasingly distant, he told CSW, the premier global intergovernmental body dedicated exclusively to promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women (and concluding its two-week session). on March 17). And he cited the dire prediction by UN Women that “equality is 300 years away”.

Hopefully, that prediction does not apply to the UN, which has failed to elect a female Secretary-General for the past 77 years while asserting male dominance in one of the premier international institutions – even as it continues to advocate gender empowerment around the world.

Guterres said last December that “we’ve come a long way”, achieving some notable firsts, such as achieving gender equality in the senior management team, for the first time in UN history, two years ago.

“It is also true now among chiefs and deputy chiefs of peace operations. Five years ago, the percentage of women in these roles was only 25 percent,” he noted.

Parity was reached in 2018, among the 130 resident coordinators, and the representation of women at headquarters has now reached parity, while the number of UN agencies with at least 50 percent female staff has increased from five to 26.

Yet the ratio of men to women for the Secretary General is 9 to zero. And the presidency of the General Assembly (PGA), the highest political decision-making body of the United Nations, is not far behind either: 73 men and four women.

The upcoming election for a new PGA — Dennis Francis of Trinidad and Tobago — will bring the total to 74 men and four women. Make another one for men.

PassBlue said so last week Some diplomats are rightfully furious that this means there will be a 74th man chosen by the 78 people to hold that role, but they have not been able to organize a rival to run against him.

“At least pressure has made Mr. Francis do it publish a visionalthough that is perhaps a generous term for a short document containing only four paragraphs on policy’.

“We wish Mr. Francis well in this important role but regret that the process was not strengthened by meaningful competition and a thorough policy platform,” said PassBlue, a widely read independent, women’s nonprofit multimedia news company that closely covers the US-UN relationship, women’s issues, human rights , peacekeeping and other urgent global issues that play out in the world body.

The nine general secretaries so far include Trygve Lie from Norway, 1946-1952; Dag Hammarskjöld from Sweden, 1953-1961; U Thant from Burma (now Myanmar), 1961-1971; Kurt Waldheim of Austria, 1972-1981; Javier Perez de Cuellar of Peru, 1982-1991; Boutros Boutros-Ghali, from Egypt, 1992-1996; Kofi A. Annan, from Ghana, 1997-2006; Ban Ki-moon, of the Republic of Korea, 2007-2016 and António Guterres, of Portugal, 2017-present.


The only four women to be elected presidents were: Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit of India (1953), Angie Brooks of Liberia (1969), Sheikha Haya Rashed Al-Khalifa of Bahrain (2006) and Maria Fernando Espinosa Garces of Ecuador (2018).

But the blame for these anomalies must be borne, not by successive secretaries-general, but by the UN’s 193 member states that are quick to pass scores of resolutions on gender power but fail to put them into practice at the highest levels of the UN totem pole. Terminal.

Ben Donaldson, speaking on behalf of Blue smoke – described as “a new initiative that shines a light on UN appointment processes” – told IPS progress on gender equality at the UN has been mixed.

“Wins have been made within SG’s top management team but this is not the whole story. There is no escaping the fact that an unbroken chain of nine male SGs will have led the organization for 80 years when the next SG is elected and only two of the last 50 General Assembly presidents have been women”.


And like Guterres’ reappointment, the male candidate for the next PGA has a blank slate in front of him — unchallenged by any candidate, female or otherwise, he pointed out.

In both cases, he argued, states have failed to nominate female candidates despite the plethora of highly qualified women out there.

“Sexism still pervades the international system and pits women against women from early career onwards, resulting in our current situation: only 25% of UN ambassadors are women and parity remains far out of reach in field operations, peacekeeping and global health leadership despite 70 % of the workforce in healthcare are women, says Donaldson.

“The most frustrating thing about the UN for those of us trying to understand this issue is the lack of transparency.”

“It is still impossible to get a reading of the gender balance for, for example, all D1 and D2 positions in the UN system, or a geographical breakdown for that matter. That’s why we launched Blue smoke – a monthly email that highlights the UN’s appointment processes and calls for inclusion every step of the way,” he explained.

Mandeep S. Tiwana, Chief Programs Officer at CIVICUS, told IPS that the gender imbalance in the election and appointments of the UN Secretary-General and President of the General Assembly “is symptomatic of a larger malaise in our societies”.

“States in particular need to make progress on diversity, equity and inclusion but often find themselves lagging behind non-state actors,” he noted

Meanwhile, reflecting on Guterres’ statement on gender equality, one of the questions at the March 6 UN press conference was whether the Secretary-General would “consider making some kind of grand gesture to underline his point by stepping aside and giving up his job to a woman”.

In response to the question, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said that “resignation is not something the Secretary-General is considering doing in any way, shape or form.”

“He will continue and has, I believe, demonstrated demonstrable results in improving and achieving gender equality in the leadership position that he fills, right? Because he does not have power over the entire administration.”

But he has put in place a strategy to achieve gender equality at the professional levels to ensure there is fairer and clearer representation.

“And I think what he has done in terms of appointments was done extremely quickly, within UN standards. I think within two years he had reached parity, including the resident coordinators in place. And that is a policy he will continue with a lot of energy,” Dujarric explained.

Under the Guterres administration, gender equality power has increased at senior staff levels, at UN agencies, and in peacekeeping and field operations worldwide.

Mathu Joyini of South Africa, president of CSW, said “gender-based discrimination is a systemic problem that has been woven into our political, social and economic lives and the technology sector is no different.”

While digital technologies enable unprecedented progress to improve social and economic outcomes for women and girls, new challenges can perpetuate existing patterns of gender inequality.

She called for more opportunities to be available for women leaders and innovators and for the public and private sectors to make more available funding that enables the full participation of women and girls in the tech ecosystem.

IPS UN agency report

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© Inter Press Service (2023) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service