Pool of Candidates for United Nations Secretary-General Should Include Many Qualified Women

September 13, 2006

In the 61 years since the United Nations was founded, no woman has ever held the position of Secretary-General, despite the fact that there have been many qualified women candidates. Currently, there are distinguished women who hold highly placed positions in governments and international organizations around the world, who are advocates for the equality and dignity of women, and who should be considered for the top position at the U.N. Among the many possible candidates, there are 18 women who have been identified by Equality Now as women who have served in positions that give them relevant experience for the job of Secretary-General.

NOW and other women's organizations are mounting an international campaign to have a woman become the next U.N. Secretary-General when Kofi Annan steps down in the a few months. We believe that the election of a progressive woman to head the United Nations would not only give women the "turn" they have been denied for over six decades, but would also help bring about positive changes for women around the globe.

Traditionally, the selection of the U.N. Secretary-General considers geographic rotation, so that each region has an opportunity to be represented. In the history of the U.N., one Asian, one Latin American, two Africans, and three Europeans have served as Secretary-General; but no woman from any region has been seriously considered. This reflects poorly on the U.N.'s commitment to gender equality.

In addition to never having seriously considered a woman for the Secretary-General position, the United Nations has a poor record of promoting women to other important positions, despite repeated promises to do so.

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As of June 2005, women occupied only 37% of professional and higher level positions, and only 15% of the Under-Secretaries-General are women. The presence of this troubling gender gap is contrary to the U.N.'s work toward equality, peace, and development. 1n 1995, the Platform for Action adopted in Beijing at the U.N.'s Fourth World Conference on Women called for the development of "mechanisms to nominate women candidates for appointment to senior posts in the United Nations" and set the target of "overall" gender equality, particularly at the professional level and above, by the year 2000. Ten years after the conference and six years after the target date, the U.N. is nowhere near its established goal. Every year, the General Assembly adopts a resolution, the "Improvement of the Status of Women in the Secretariat," which calls for the achievement of gender balance in U.N. staffing. Every year the goal is left unmet, revealing the U.N.'s shallow commitment to women. If no women are considered for the next Secretary-General, this surely sends a message that they do not consider women capable enough to lead.

In June, a pioneering lawyer and women's rights advocate, Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, was elected as President of the United Nations General Assembly. Sheika Haya is one of the first two women to ever practice law in Bahrain, and has argued for greater rights for women before Islamic courts. But Sheika Haya is only one of too few examples of women in positions of power at the United Nations.

When women are so underrepresented in leadership positions in governments everywhere, it is of vital importance that more women hold leadership roles in the U.N. And it is equally important that the U.N. meet its commitment to attain "overall gender equality" though it is six years overdue.

The time for a woman Secretary-General is now, and there are many qualified women leaders across the globe. Equality Now, one of our allied organizations, has provided information for this story and about sex inequality at the U.N. and has compiled a sampling of experienced and well-qualified women candidates.

Take Action and let the U.N. know why you support a woman for Secretary-General.