A Call on the United Nations Secretary-General for Gender Balance in the U.N. Secretariat

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1 Feb 2007

In October 2006 Ban Ki-Moon, the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea, was nominated by the United Nations Security Council and elected by the General Assembly to serve as Secretary-General of the United Nations for a term of five years.  In his first address to the General Assembly, following his election, the Secretary-General designate said he would “lead by example” and specifically mentioned greater gender balance, particularly at senior levels, as one of his goals for the UN Secretariat.  Soon after he was sworn in to the top post in the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon publicly stated that he was hoping to appoint a woman as Deputy Secretary-General.  Among the first high-level appointments he announced in January 2007 are a number of women including Asha-Rose Migiro – the Foreign Minister of Tanzania – as Deputy Secretary-General.  He named Alicia Barcena of Mexico, the Chef de Cabinet to previous Secretary-General Kofi Annan, as UN Under-Secretary-General for Management.  The Secretary-General also appointed Michèle Montas, an award-winning journalist from Haiti who had served as the spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, as his own spokesperson.

These first appointments are cause for hope that the United Nations may finally implement the commitment made to gender balance in its Secretariat.  This commitment was stated explicitly in the Beijing Platform for Action adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, with a target date for implementation of the year 2000.  But, as of 2006, the United Nations was far short of its goal and not making much progress towards it.  A UN report issued in September 2006 noted that the representation of women at professional and higher levels had remained almost static, and that in some cases there had even been a decrease, citing the percentage of women at D-1 director level as having dropped almost 7 points to 25.3%.  As of June 2006, only 15.4% of the Under Secretaries-General were women, down from 16.2% in June 2005, which was down from 16.7% in June 2004.  Overall, women occupied only 37.4% of professional and higher-level posts in the secretariat - the same level it has been for the past three years.

Against this backdrop, the early and public commitment of Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to the advancement of women in the United Nations system is encouraging.  The posts to which he has appointed women are critical to the management of the organization and its public representation.  By choosing women to serve as his deputy, his spokesperson, and his chief of management, the new Secretary-General has sent a signal suggesting that the goal of 50/50 gender balance is well within reach if he is determined to reach it and if he continues to recruit qualified women proactively to serve at the top management levels of the United Nations.         

Whether these first steps of Ban Ki-Moon represent a long term commitment and the beginning of a sustained effort to change the United Nations at its core remains to be seen.  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.  If the Secretary-General has the vision and courage to open the doors at the highest level, long closed to women, the United Nations will benefit. 

What You Can Do: 

Please write to the new Secretary-General and congratulate him on his appointment, and on his public commitment to advance the status of women in the United Nations.  Welcome the gender balance in his first round of high-level appointments and urge him to establish a revised target date for the 2000 goal of 50/50 representation in the UN secretariat.  Urge him to demonstrate through his leadership that such commitments can and should have meaning, and encourage him to continue actively recruiting women for senior management posts in the United Nations.  Letters should be addressed to:

H.E. Ban Ki-Moon
United Nations Secretary-General
UN Headquarters, Room S-3800
New York, NY 10017
Fax: +1 212-963-2155