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In the sixty years since the United Nations was founded, no woman has ever been elected to serve as Secretary-General, despite the fact that there are many qualified candidates. Women are underrepresented in the ranks of the organization, as well as at the top. As of 30 June 2005, women occupied only 37.1% of professional and higher positions and only 16.2% of the Under-Secretaries General were women.  Women’s unequal access to positions of decision-making power around the world hinders progress toward all the United Nations’ goals, including equality, development and peace. 

The election of a new United Nations Secretary-General will take place in 2006, when the term of current Secretary-General Kofi Annan comes to an end.  Tradition has it that the post of Secretary-General should rotate so that each geographical region gets its “turn.” Women have never had a “turn,” and there are many qualified women from all regions of the world who could serve as Secretary-General. The list presented here is just a small sampling of women who are serving or have served in positions that have given them relevant experience for the job of Secretary-General. There are many more women who are equally qualified.  Equality Now names these individuals only to illustrate the considerable pool of talented women who could serve. They have not been contacted regarding the mention of their names, nor have they indicated whether or not they wish to be considered for the post. 

The Security Council is responsible for recommending a candidate for Secretary-General to the General Assembly. The Security Council is composed of five permanent members (China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and ten rotating members (who in 2006 will be Argentina, Congo, Denmark, Ghana, Greece, Japan, Peru, Qatar, Slovakia and Tanzania). To be nominated by the Security Council, a candidate must secure at least nine votes and avoid the veto of any permanent member. It is generally understood that no national of the five permanent Security Council members should serve as Secretary-General. 

The Platform for Action adopted in 1995 in Beijing at the United Nations 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.” Yet ten years after the Beijing conference and five years after the target date, the United Nations is nowhere near the established goal, and there is no indication that a woman has ever been considered for the top post. No mechanism for such consideration has been developed. Every year the General Assembly adopts a resolution 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 the staffing of the Secretariat. The upcoming election of a new UN Secretary-General is an opportunity to implement the commitment made in Beijing in a meaningful way.

A sampling of qualified women (photos alphabetical by column):

Louise Arbour (Canada)
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Former Supreme Court Justice

Michelle Bachelet Jeria (Chile)

Carolina Barco Isakson (Colombia)
Foreign Minister

Gro Harlem Brundtland (Norway)
Former Prime Minister
Former WHO Director-General

Silvia Cartwright (New Zealand)
Governor General

Helen Clark (New Zealand)
Prime Minister

Tarja Halonen (Finland)

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (Liberia)
Former UN Assistant Secretary-General

Thoraya Obaid (Saudi Arabia)
Executive Director, UNFPA

Elizabeth Odio Benito (Costa Rica)
ICC Vice President
Former Vice President

Sadako Ogata (Japan)
Former UN High Commissioner for Refugees

Navanethem Pillay (South Africa)
ICC Judge
Former UN ICTR President

Nafis Sadik (Pakistan)
Former Executive Director, UNFPA

Aung San Suu Kyi (Burma)
Prime Minister-Elect

Leticia Shahani (Philippines)
Former Senate President
Former UN Assistant Secretary-General

Mervat Tallawy (Egypt)
Executive Secretary, ESCWA

Anna Tibaijuka (Tanzania)
Executive Secretary, UN-Habitat

Vaira Vike-Freiberga (Latvia)

Please write to the Security Council members listed below, and to your own foreign minister or secretary of state, urging them to seek qualified women candidates and support the election of a woman to the post of Secretary-General.  Recall the commitment made in the Beijing Platform for Action, and repeated in annual General Assembly resolutions to achieve gender balance at all levels of the United Nations Secretariat.  Note that the upcoming election of the most senior UN post represents a unique opportunity to honor this commitment.

Missions to the United Nations of the members of the Security Council in New York, USA

Argentina: HE Cesar Fernando Mayoral, One UN Plaza, NY, NY 10017, Fax: +1 212-980-8395, Email:
China: HE Wang Guangya, 350 East 35th St, NY, NY 10016, Fax: +1 212-481-2998, Email:
Congo: HE Basile Ikouebe, 14 East 65th St, NY, NY 10021, Fax: +1 212-832-6558, Email:
Denmark: HE Ellen Margrethe Løj, 885 2nd Ave, NY, NY 10017, Fax: +1 212-308-3384, Email:
France: HE Jean-Marc de la Sablière, 245 East 47th St, NY, NY 10017, Fax: +1 212-207-8765, Email:
Ghana: HE Nana Effah-Apenteng, 19 East 47th St, NY, NY 10017, Fax: +1 212-751-6743, Email:
Greece: HE Admantios Th. Vassilakis, 866 2nd Ave, NY, NY 10017, Fax: +1 212-888-4440, Email:
Japan: HE Kenzo Oshima, 866 UN Plaza, NY, NY 10017, Fax: +1 212-751-1966, Email:
Peru: HE Oswaldo de Rivero, 820 2nd Ave, NY, NY 10017, Fax: +1 212-972-6975, Email:
Qatar: HE Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser, 809 UN Plaza, NY, NY 10017, Fax: +1 212-758-4952, Email:
Russia: HE Andrei Denisov, 136 East 67th St, NY, NY 10021, Fax: +1 212-628-0252, Email:
Slovakia: HE Peter Burian, 801 2nd Ave, 12th Fl, NY, NY 10017, Fax: +1 212-286-8419, Email:
Tanzania: HE Augustine Mahiga, 201 East 42nd St, NY, NY 10017, Fax: +1 212-682-5232, Email:
UK: HE Sir Emyr Jones Parry, 885 2nd Ave, NY, NY 10017, Fax: +1 212-745-9316, Email:
USA: HE John Bolton, 140 East 45th St, NY, NY 10017, Fax: +1 212-415-4053, Email: