Will the next UN Secretary General be a woman?

The last day of 2016 will be the moment of an important shift in the United Nations institutions, as Ban Ki-moon, the current UN Secretary-General will quit his office after 10 years of public services. Anticipating this change of the guard, media have already started an intensive debate on the matter. Various names have been proposed so far, however in the cacophony of predictions, one message strongly comes out: this is high time for a woman to hold the office.

The UN Secretary-General: Responsibilities

Trygve Lie, the first Secretary-General called this office “the most impossible job in the world”. Following the UN job description “equal parts diplomat and advocate, civil servant and CEO, the Secretary-General is a symbol of United Nations ideals and a spokesman for the interests of the world’s peoples, in particular the poor and vulnerable among them”.

Although the UN Charter speaks broadly of the “chief administrative officer”, the office also brings political responsibilities. Indeed, the article 99 of the UN Charter says the Secretary-General “may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.” In consequence, each Secretary-General’s tenure is strongly marked by the international context and the balance of power between countries.

The UN Secretary-General: Process of selection

There are no rules that would strictly regulate the process of selection and it is an affair conducted behind the curtains by a very limited group of countries.

Historically, in 1945, the UN Charter stated broadly that candidates for the position should be selected by the Security Council. This vague description was completed one year after by a resolution that affirmed that it was desirable to the Council to propose just one candidate in order to avoid discussion on the forum of the General Assembly. This de facto put the power of election of the Secretary-General to the Security Council and especially to its five permanent members. The position of this last group got even more reinforced when they obtained a veto right that allowed them basically to sink every candidature.

As concluded in the Guardian

“Currently, the security council carries out the selection process behind closed doors before presenting its candidate to the general assembly. The selection process is opaque, non-democratic and politicised, which reduces the chances of achieving gender equality.”

Additionally, several unwritten rules also exist and among them two are of crucial importance:

– Candidates coming from countries of the permanent Security Council group are not considered in the selection process in order to avoid further concentration of power.

– The geographical rotation’s principle has been applied since the 1990’s.  After Asia being represented by the current Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, former minister of Foreign Affairs of South Korea, Eastern Europe should see one of its politicians holding the office.

Why is it time for a woman?

The history of the United Nations shows that its leadership has the male face. Among all the eight Secretary-Generals that held the office not a single one of them was a woman.  This situation is out of step with current raise of the number of women on power positions.  This discrepancy has become more visible, especially since various popular actions have demanded more gender equlity in the matter. Among them, the most significant appears to be “the Woman Secretary General” campaign that promotes outstanding women whose profiles could be appropriate for the office. On the web page, the association claims that

“The UN is 70 years old; that is a lifetime. Let us make sure that in the next lifetime of the UN, its leadership includes women of merit and nerve, significantly gifted to make the UN work. It’s time!”

A selective list of possible candidates

In spite of the regional rotation and of the turn of Eastern Europe to have “its” General-Secretary, a predicable veto of Russia will probably stop any candidature from the zone.  For that reason, candidates from the Western part of Europe and from Latin America are also seriously taken into consideration.

Candidates from Eastern Europe:

Irina Bokova Irina Bokova (Bulgaria), current chief of UNESCO and the most likely candidate

Kolinda Grabar-KitarovićKolinda Grabar-Kitarović  (Croatia), President of Croatia, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and diplomat

Dalia GrybauskaiteDalia Grybauskaite (Lithuania), President of Lithuania, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Economy, former EU Commissioner of Financial Programming and the Budget

kristalina_georgievaKristalina Georgieva (Bulgaria), a former World Bank economist and current European Commissioner

Candidates outside Eastern Europe:

Sylvie LucasSylvie Lucas (Luxembourg), Luxembourg’s ambassador to the United Nations and former president of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)

Michelle BacheletMichelle Bachelet (Chile), president of Chile and former director of UN Women

LA CANCILLER COLOMBIANA MARÍA ÁNGELA HOLGUÍN VISITA PRAGAMaría Ángela Holguín Cuéllar (Colombia), Minister of Foreign Affairs and former Permanent Representative of Colombia to the United Nations

Susana MalcorraSusana Malcorra (Argentina), United Nations Chef de Cabinet to the Executive Office of Ban Ki-Moon

Special Representative of the Secretary-Margot Wallström (Sweden), Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden, former European Commissioner for the Environment, lately EU Commissioner for Institutional Relations and Communication Strategy and former Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General (SRSG) on Sexual Violence in Conflict

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