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Is it time for a woman to lead the United Nations?

Oct 25, 2021

How does the United Nations choose a secretary-general?

The Security Council nominates a candidate and the General Assembly votes on the candidate. The Security Council's selection process for U.N. chief has remained secretive and almost completely male.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon term of office ends Dec. 31, 2016. His successor is under discussion. Some U.N. watchers even scrutinize the handwriting on paper ballots after Security Council straw polls.

A European ambassador recently reminded colleagues of a January 1946 General Assembly resolution. It says a "man of eminence and high attainment" should hold the post.

Perhaps they should add "or a woman." No doubt. Just three female candidates have been included in the Security Council's past closed-door votes. Now two campaigns are launching to make the next "Your excellency" a she.

The international women's rights group Equality Now will soon launch the Time for a Woman campaign. They'll urge the public to pressure the U.N. to make "gender a serious consideration for the first time," said the group's legal adviser, Antonia Kirkland.

"There have been eight men and no women. To me, it's time," said Jean Krasno, a lecturer at Yale. She leads the Campaign to Elect a Woman Secretary-General.

The campaign will launch It will feature possible women candidates with political experience.

Women proposed include Helen Clark, former New Zealand prime minister and the head of the U.N. Development Program; Bulgarian European commissioner Kristalina Georgieva; Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite; Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, and Chilean President Michelle Bachelet.

"And obviously, you could have some sort of dream thoughts around (German Chancellor) Angela Merkel," said Laura Liswood, secretary-general of the Council of Women World Leaders.

Also proposed is International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde from France. But the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China are permanent Security Council members. Traditionally, candidates from their' countries are not considered.

Women's organizations are assembling for the meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women. "More women are leading businesses, governments and global organizations. At the same time, progress remains unacceptably slow," Ban told the meeting Monday.

Today, the world has fewer than 20 female heads of government. Women make up about a quarter of senior posts in the U.N. Secretariat. A female secretary-general "will be a cherry on top," said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. She heads the U.N. agency promoting equality for women.

The U.N. Charter doesn't require it, but traditionally regions, such as Africa or Asia, take turns having someone in the top post. This would be the first turn of eastern Europe. Irina Bokova, the Bulgarian Director-General of the U.N. cultural agency, UNESCO, has a nomination from Bulgaria.

All 193 U.N. member states belong to the General Assembly. But they have little voice in picking a secretary-general. The Security Council's five permanent members have veto power. The council hands a single candidate to the General Assembly for its approval.

Enough, says the recently launched campaign 1 for 7 Billion. It wants more transparency and public input for the best candidate, "irrespective of his or her country of origin." The campaign doesn't demand a female secretary-general. But it points out that a woman has never held the job.

In February, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan joined with former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland in calling for a stronger United Nations. They said the secretary-general selection process should be more open and thorough in time for picking Ban's successor. Brundtland is one of three women ever voted on by the Security Council in its deliberations for U.N. chief.

"After eight 'he's' it's surely time for a 'she,'" they wrote in an opinion piece for The New York Times.

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