Push for fe­male UN boss in­ten­si­fies

Lesotho Times - - International -

UNITED NA­TIONS — The bearded diplo­mat in a striped tie ad­dressed a room­ful of his peers the other morn­ing on the sub­ject of how the next United Na­tions sec­re­tary gen­eral should be cho­sen. Among the sug­ges­tions of­fered by the diplo­mat, Mar­gus Kolga of Es­to­nia, was to fi­nal­ize the se­lec­tion as early as three months be­fore the new term be­gins, in Jan­uary 2017, “sim­ply in or­der for him to pre­pare,” as he put it. “Him?” piped up Mary Robin­son, a for­mer pres­i­dent of Ire­land, so qui­etly that Mr Kolga did not hear her at first. “Him?” she re­peated, a bit louder. Mr Kolga threw up his hands in sur­ren­der and be­gan to apol­o­gize. “Him or her. Sorry,” he said, adding that in his na­tive Estonian, “there are no gen­ders. When I’m say­ing ‘he,’ I’m mean­ing he or she.” Whether the next sec­re­tary gen­eral will be a he or a she has be­come an in­creas­ingly po­tent sub­ject of con­ver­sa­tion, both in­side and out­side the cor­ri­dors of the United Na­tions. Three dozen coun­tries, led by Colom­bia, are pro­mot­ing the idea that it is a woman’s turn to lead the or­ga­ni­za­tion. Women’s groups have put out lists of can­di­dates. Prom­i­nent world lead­ers — in­clud­ing mem­bers of the group Ms Robin­son be­longs to, the El­ders, com­posed of for­mer heads of state — have called for coun­tries to nom­i­nate women. Women have been elected to lead coun­tries as var­ied as Ger­many and South Korea. The In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund is led by a woman, and some of Europe’s big­gest com­pa­nies are re­quired by law to set aside 30 per­cent of their su­per­vi­sory seats for women. Swe­den’s for­eign min­is­ter, Mar­got Wall­strom, has pur­sued “a fem­i­nist for­eign pol­icy,” call­ing women’s rights crit­i­cal to global peace and se­cu­rity. And Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton — who, 20 years ago, spoke as the first lady of the United States at a land­mark United Na­tions women’s con­fer­ence in Bei­jing — is run­ning for pres­i­dent. The United Na­tions, though, has been some­thing of a hold­out. Since its in­cep­tion in 1945, it has al­ways been led by a man. “Af­ter eight male sec­re­tary gen­er­als in a row, the El­ders are very sym­pa­thetic to the idea that it is high time for a woman to be cho­sen,” Ms Robin­son said when it was her turn to speak. “But if it turns out that the right can­di­date is a man, then so be it.” The “right can­di­date,” she took pains to say, should be “in­de­pen- dent and not be­holden to the in­ter­ests of in­di­vid­ual mem­ber states.” The calls re­flect not only an ap­peal for gen­der eq­uity but also a grow­ing sense of frus­tra­tion with the opaque way in which world pow­ers — namely, the five per­ma­nent mem­bers of the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil: Bri­tain, China, France, Rus­sia and the United States — bar­gain over the choice of the world’s top civil ser­vant. Diplo­mats and civil so­ci­ety ac­tivists say that if the process does not change, it stands to make the United Na­tions anachro­nis­tic, ir­rel­e­vant and un­fit to han­dle the most press­ing global crises. “What­ever the se­lec­tion process for the next sec­re­tary gen­eral is, his­tor­i­cally there’s been no at­ten- tion paid to the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of half the world’s pop­u­la­tion,” said Louise Ar­bour, a Cana­dian ju­rist who was the United Na­tions high com­mis­sioner for hu­man rights from 2004 to 2008. “It is ge­og­ra­phy; then it is horse­trad­ing on state in­ter­ests, much more than the per­sonal qual­i­ties of the can­di­date.” Few coun­tries have an­nounced their nom­i­na­tions, and in keep­ing with the pro­to­col of giv­ing dif­fer­ent re­gional blocs a chance, Eastern Europe is angling for its turn, though noth­ing in the United Na­tions Char­ter re­quires it. Be­cause of the calls for fe­male nom­i­nees, many more of the names be­ing talked about are of women than ever be­fore. They in­clude Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, di­rec­tor gen­eral of Unesco; Pres­i­dent Michelle Bachelet of Chile; Kristalina Ge­orgieva, another Bul­gar­ian and a vice pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion; and He­len Clark, a for­mer prime min­is­ter of New Zealand who heads the United Na­tions De­vel­op­ment Pro­gram. One of the men whose name has come up is Danilo Turk, a for­mer pres­i­dent of Slove­nia. Ms Clark de­clined to con­firm in a tele­phone in­ter­view whether she was in­ter­ested in the job, though some of her staff mem­bers de­scribed her trav­els to ma­jor capi- tals around the world as part of a cam­paign for the post. She said only that women were un­der­rep­re­sented in se­nior lead­er­ship po- sitions in the United Na­tions, in sharp con­trast to other or­ga­ni­za­tions, and that women tended to bring dif­fer­ent is­sues to the ta­ble when they were rep­re­sented at the top.

“My per­spec­tive is that women bring a wider range of life ex­pe­ri­ences,” Ms Clark said. “All top po­si­tions glob­ally, women should have an equal chance to com­pete for them.”

The United Na­tions Char­ter does not spec­ify ex­actly how to fill the top job. In prac­tice, for most of its 70year history, the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil has an­nounced its pre­ferred can­di­date, who has then been rat­i­fied by the broader mem­ber­ship of the Gen­eral Assem­bly. The Coun­cil’s de­lib­er­a­tions are pri­vate, and many diplo­mats com­plain that the Coun­cil’s per­ma­nent mem­bers try to make sure that their se­lec­tion bends easily to their wishes — more sec­re­tary than gen­eral, the say­ing goes.

The cur­rent sec­re­tary gen­eral, Ban Ki-moon, is known as an ad­vo­cate of pro­mot­ing women to man­age­ment posts, some­times scold­ing heads of state and gov­ern­ment for not putting more women in cab­i­net po­si­tions. Still, fe­male peace­keep­ers re­main scant, as do fe­male me­di­a­tors ap­pointed by the United Na­tions to ne­go­ti­ate peace deals.

Among the am­bas­sadors for the per­ma­nent mem­bers of the Coun­cil, only Bri­tain’s, Matthew Ry­croft, has ex­plic­itly said his gov­ern­ment would fa­vor a woman among equally qual­i­fied con­tenders. The Rus­sian am­bas­sador, Vi­taly I. Churkin, has warned that men should not be dis­crim­i­nated against.

More than one-fourth of the am­bas­sadors rep­re­sent­ing their coun­tries at the United Na­tions are women. That is a far greater share than when Ms Ar­bour first came to United Na­tions head­quar­ters 18 years ago and watched the pa­rade of diplo­mats and heads of state en­ter­ing the Gen­eral Assem­bly halls. “Is there a sep­a­rate en­trance for women?” she re­called ask­ing a vet­eran United Na­tions staff mem­ber. “No, honey, this is it,” she was told. There is, how­ever, a flip side to the cho­rus for a fe­male sec­re­tary gen­eral. “If you have a woman who doesn’t de­liver, they will use her to judge the rest of us. That’s my worry,” said Zainab Ban­gura, the sec­re­tary gen­eral’s spe­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive on sex­ual vi­o­lence in con­flict. “What I’m look­ing for is an ex­cep­tion­ally good woman who can demon­strate that women can re­ally do that job.”

Chilean Pres­i­dent Michelle Bachelet (cen­tre) has been touted as pos­si­ble suc­ces­sor to Un Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Ban Ki-moon (left).

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