United Nations Fails on Promises of Gender Equality

December 13, 2006

By Marilu Gresens, NOW Public Policy Intern

The United Nations once again has failed to elect a woman Secretary-General, despite the fact that many qualified women leaders had been identified as potential candidates and thousands of women's rights activists sent messages urging U.N. Security Council members to select a woman.

In October, Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon was approved by the United Nations General Assembly to take the place of Secretary-General Kofi Annan, whose term expires at the end of December this year. Over the last 61 years since the United Nation's formation, no woman has ever held the position of Secretary-General, despite the U.N.'s stated commitment to ending gender disparities within its own organization. During this selection process, only one woman was even nominated; Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberg, was nominated by her government near the end of an appointment process widely criticized for its secrecy and lack of transparency.

Not only has it never seriously considered a woman for the Secretary-General position, the United Nations also has a poor record of promoting women to other important positions, despite repeated promises to do so. As of June 2005, women filled just 37 percent of professional and higher staff positions, and 15 percent of the Under Secretary-General positions. At the U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women, governments called for the development of "mechanisms to nominate women candidates for appointment to senior posts in the United Nations," and set the target for "overall gender equality...by the year 2000." The presence of this troubling gender gap for more than six years after the target date is contrary to the U.N.'s work toward equality, peace, and development.

Furthermore, the General Assembly has adopted a resolution every year on the "Improvement of the Status of Women in the Secretariat," lamenting the lack of progress that has been made and calling for the achievement of gender balance in staffing of the Secretariat. Yet, every year the U.N. fails to fulfill its goal and promises of having more women leaders. This most recent election was a missed opportunity for the U.N. to begin to implement its commitment to women's equality made over ten years ago.

"The National Organization for Women salutes the efforts by many activists around the world on this issue," said NOW President Kim Gandy, "and calls for the Secretary-General elect Ban Ki-moon to make gender equality a priority by following through on the often-made, often-broken promises the United Nations has made to women."

Additionally, NOW joins with Equality NOW, a New York-based international women's rights organization, in calling for more effective implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325, guaranteeing the inclusion of women at all levels of decision-making in peace negotiations.

"Including women in critically important peace negotiations is more important than ever, with so many violent conflicts happening throughout the world," Gandy added. "Because of women's natural disinclination towards violence, their inclusion could accelerate the dialogues toward peace."