The campaign to elect a woman to lead the UN for the first time since it was established more than 70 years ago fell through but the incoming secretary general has carried out gender parity policy by appointing women into some key positions with a promise to do more
By Ime Akpan
In-coming secretary general of the United Nations, Mr. Antonio Guterres who takes over from Mr. Ban Ki-moon on January 1, 2017 has pledged to reach gender parity among the senior leadership within his five-year term.
To walk the talk, the 67-year-Portuguese has appointed Nigeria’s minister of environment, Ms. Amina Mohammed as the deputy secretary general.
He also picked two other women-a Brazilian diplomat, Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti as chef de cabinet and Kyung-wha Kang of South Korea as special adviser on policy.
“I am happy to count on the efforts of these three highly competent women, whom I have chosen for their strong backgrounds in global affairs, development, diplomacy, human rights and humanitarian action.
“These appointments are the foundations of my team, which I will continue to build, respecting my pledges on gender parity and geographical diversity,” said Guterres.
The incoming UN chief said he will continue to appoint more women into high profile positions stressing that gender parity would be top of his agenda.
“I think that one very important element of the agenda would be to give a clear signal that gender parity is a must and so in the appointments I will be making.
“You’ll see that gender parity will become a clear priority from top to bottom in the UN and it will have to be respected by all.
“This is a very ambitious agenda, an agenda that must be for both woman and man, and that is why parity is so important in our reform perspectives.
“That is also why the empowerment of women is so important in everything the UN will be doing around the world,” he said.
Reacting to Mohammed’s appointment, a public affairs analyst, Mr. Ephraim Macaulay told News Gazette that “it is a well-deserved appointment” adding that the appointee is not new to the workings of the UN.
According to him, Mohammed had served under Ki-Moon saying she would be an asset to her boss and the UN as a whole.
“Mohammed has distinguished herself as UN under-secretary general and special adviser to Ban Ki-Moon on post-2015 development planning. So, she is well-versed in how the UN operates and this is good for Guterres,” he said.
Macaulay applauded Guterres for what he described as the “amazonisation” of the UN adding that the appointment of women into key positions in the organisation and the promise to do more would bridge the gender gap in the UN.
As of last June, 34.8 per cent of the 40,131 members of the United Nations secretariat staff were women, while 17 of the 79 under-secretaries-general, or 21.5 percent, were female.
Macaulay said if Ki-Moon had had his way, he would have ensured his successor is a woman.
Another public commentator, Mr. Ejomafuvwe Erhiaganoma said there was hope during the last campaign for the post of secretary general of the UN that a woman would win the election.
“Unfortunately, the election did not favour any of the women contestants. I think the appointments and subsequent ones are made to calm frayed nerves. You are aware that for the first time in the history of the UN, many women vied for the position.
“Many advocacy groups canvassed for a woman secretary general. As it turned out, Guterres clinched the position and this, I believe, did not go down well with some groups. To assuage the feelings of such people, I think the incoming secretary general is trying to placate such interest groups.
He added: “With the appointment, I am convinced the UN has adopted an unwritten resolution ceding the post of deputy secretary general of the global organisation to women. Though Mohammed is not the first woman to occupy the office, the position may permanently be occupied by a woman whenever a man emerges as UN secretary general. However, it does not foreclose that a woman will emerge as the UN chief, someday.”
The office of the deputy secretary general was formally created in 1997 to handle many of the administrative responsibilities of the secretary-general, help manage secretariat operations, and ensure coherence of activities and programmes.
From 1997, there have been four DSGs of UN with Mohammed who resumes on January 1, 2017 as the fifth. She is the third female who will occupy the position.
There were the Canadian, Ms, Louise Fréchette who served from March 2, 1998-April 1, 2006 and a Briton, Mark Malloch Brown, April 1- December 31, 2006. Both served under Kofi Annan. A Tanzanian, Ms. Asha-Rose Migiro, February 5, 2007 –July 1, 2012 and a Swede, Jan Eliasson, July 1, 2012-December 31, 2016 served under Ki-moon.
It would be recalled that in the run-up to the poll Ki-moon had canvassed that “it’s high time now” for a female secretary general after eight men at the helm of affairs of the global organisation established more than 70 years ago.
“We have many distinguished and eminent women leaders in national governments or other organisations or even business communities, political communities, and cultural and every aspect of our life. There’s no reason why not in the UN.
He said there were “many distinguished, motivated women leaders who can really change this world, who can actively engage with the other leaders of the world”.
It would be recalled that seven of the 13 candidates who vied for the post of UNSG were women. They were Irina Bokova, former acting minister of foreign affairs Bulgaria (1996–1997); Helen Clark, former prime minister of New Zealand (1999–2008), Kristalina Georgieva, European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response (2010–2014); Natalia Gherman̠, former acting prime minister of Moldova (2015) and Susana Malcorra , minister of foreign affairs, Argentina. There were also Vesna Pusić, minister of foreign and European affairs, Croatia (2011–2016) and Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (2010–2016), Costa Rica. Both withdrew from the race later.
The male contestants were Guterres; Vuk-Jeremic, former minister of foreign affairs, Serbia (2007–2012); Srgjan Kerim, former minister of foreign affairs, Macedonia (2000–2001); Miroslav Lajcak, current minister of foreign affairs of Slovakia; Danilo Türk, former president of Slovenia (2007–2012) and the former prime minister of Montenegro (2010-2012), Igor Lukšić who, like Pusic and Figueres withdrew.