NGOs have campaigned for more than a year to see a woman at the helm of the headquarters of the world’s diplomatic chamber. Numerous profiles of outstanding women have been compiled on the Woman Secretary General website. Yet, it is a man, António Guterres, who was elected by acclamation to be the new Secretary General. As Matthew Rycroft, the U.K. Ambassador to the U.N. and defender of women’s equality, said during the Secretary General (SG) election process, “I think it is time to have a woman SG, but at the end, we are looking for the best candidate.”
Christina Hioureas, chair of Foley Hoag LLP’s United Nations practice group, shares her insights on gender equality at the U.N.
What are the commitments Guterres has made to address sexual violence and women’s equality, particularly regarding the inclusion of women in the highest ranks of the Secretariat?
As the intention was to elect the first female Secretary General of the U.N. and since this goal was not ultimately realized, I understand that Secretary General-elect Guterres has pledged to appoint women to the highest ranks of the U.N. Secretariat. Including women in key positions is essential to ensure that issues such as sexual violence and gender equality are addressed in the most effective manner.
How will the inclusion of women in key positions at the U.N. ensure global progress?
Gender parity in top positions at the U.N., in governance, and in the corporate world more generally, is essential to the advancement of the organization through the inclusion of more diverse perspectives and ideas. The historical exclusion of the viewpoints of more than half of the world’s population has handicapped the U.N. in its ability to truly address global societal issues. This includes but is not limited to economic advancement, humanitarian crises, and sexual violence, particularly in conflict zones, amongst other global issues.
What is your analysis of the efforts of the last SG? What did he realize for women? Was it enough?
The prior SG made a number of efforts for the advancement of women globally. However, until there is true gender parity in the top ranks at the U.N.—including the eventual election of the first female Secretary General—the U.N. will not truly be able to address gender issues at their core or even address global issues, more generally, in the best possible manner.
It is crucial not only for the U.N. Secretariat to be led by women in key posts, but also for U.N. member states to nominate a greater number of women to key elected positions such as judges and arbitrators before international courts and tribunals, special rapporteurs, President of the General Assembly, and so forth—not to mention ambassadorial positions. The United States has led the way with the appointment as Ambassador Samantha Power as the only female permanent member of the Security Council and Judge Joan Donoghue to the International Court of Justice. More must be done in this regard by all U.N. member states. Therefore, the inclusion of women extends beyond the Secretary General and rests in the hands of the U.N. member states themselves. Given the historic reluctance of many U.N. member states to advance women in their ranks, perhaps the U.N. can exert greater political pressure on states to nominate and appoint women in key positions.