Dream Headline 2016: “A Woman to Lead the United Nations”

WHAT ARE THE ODDS THAT A WOMAN WILL BE THE NEXT SECRETARY-GENERAL?

There’s buzz around several women who are on the short list of those being considered. Media coverage reporting on possible candidates lead off with those from the Eastern Europe, which is thought to be the home region of the next Secretary-General. The favored candidates include Irina Bokova, head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); Kristalina Ivanova Georgieva, an economist and vice president of the European Union; Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund; Michelle Bachelet, president of Chile and former head of UN Women, and Helen Clark, former prime minister of New Zealand and head of the UN Development Programme.,

We know that, given the opportunity, women can lead, solve problems, and build consensus. We multitask, build collaborations, and tackle complex initiatives. Women are good systems thinkers and concerned with process as well as results. The global agenda is complex. The world population is growing. We will live longer, develop noncommunicable diseases, and likely suffer from known as well as yet unknown conditions. We’ll see the bulk of population growth in Africa and Asia and hopefully realize the projected economic growth there and elsewhere. All this requires infrastructure, resources, and leadership.

Yet despite discussions among world leaders to end discrimination against women and increase the proportion of political posts they hold, the numbers remain embarrassing. As of 1995, women held only 11% of political seats. As of this year, which marks the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Conference on Women, women are still markedly absent from holding decision-making posts: They occupy only 22% of political positions, well short of the 30% target agreed to by world leaders. It’s time for change.

How can we, civil society, work to ensure effective global leadership; how can we direct our energies and voice to support the appointment of the right person to lead the UN? The campaign to elect a woman as UN Secretary-General has started its work. Perhaps we can find additional channels to influence its future leadership. Our health and wellbeing depend on it.

POSTSCRIPT: HISTORICAL IRONY

On August 19, 2015, the United States celebrated the 95th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, which gave American women the right to vote.

The passage of the amendment was a close call. Requiring a three-fourths vote by representatives of the then 45 states. In the end, Tennessee was the state that pushed the vote in favor of women’s suffrage. Harry Burn, the 24-year-old nay-leaning legislator from Tennessee, reversed his position and cast the deciding vote. As the story goes, Burn, who switched his vote at the last minute, did so because of a note from his mother that he carried in his pocket the day of the vote. The next day, he told the House that he had changed his vote because his mother had taught him that “a good boy always does what his mother asks him to do.”

I share this story in the spirit of optimism. I hope that on the day the votes are cast each of the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Counsel carries a wise and persuasive note in his pocket. Absent those missives, I must trust that they recognize the required leadership skills that world needs of the next head of the UN. She has much to tackle in the coming decade.

REFERENCES

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