Why the next UN secretary-general should be a woman
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Much has been made of the possibility that the United States could elect its first female president in November. Yet there is another, far less publicized election occurring now that could mark a milestone for gender parity in the uppermost echelons of global power.

By the end of the year, a final vote will determine the next secretary-general of the United Nations, who will succeed current Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon when he steps down in December.


As of now, six of the 12 candidates nominated for the position are women. This bodes well for the increasingly vocal members of both the U.N. and the public who argue that it is high time the leader of the world's largest international organization is a woman. In its 70-plus years, the U.N. has seen the leadership of eight male secretaries-general in succession. This year could be a turning point, a departure from this longstanding tradition of gender imbalance.

The roster of candidates under consideration includes highly qualified women with experience as leaders in their fields: Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO; Helen Clark, administrator of the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) and former prime minister of New Zealand; Susana Malcorra, minister of Foreign Affairs of Argentina; Christiana Figueres, former executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change; Natalia Gherman, Minister of Foreign Affairs and former deputy prime minister of Moldova; and Vesna Pusić, deputy Speaker of the Croatian Parliament and former deputy prime minister. These figures are skillful diplomats, powerful speakers, and excellent mediators — key attributes required of a leader of this stature.

Despite these leaders’ impressive credentials, in an informal closed-door straw poll conducted July 21, 2016, only one of the female candidates ranked in the top five. The 15 members of the Security Council were asked to indicate whether they "encourage," "discourage" or had "no opinion" regarding the nominees. U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and former Portuguese Prime Minister António Guterres emerged as a clear favorite, with 12 "encourage" ballots, while Pusić came in last with only two positive votes. Bokova and Clark were the only women who received more than seven "encourage" votes, with Bokova coming in third and Clark ranking sixth.

Although the poll holds no official value, and more candidates could still join the race, it does not augur well for advocates of a female secretary-general. If this pattern holds in the upcoming straw polls planned for August and September, there is a high likelihood that a woman will not be chosen in the final vote tentatively scheduled for October.

The gender disparity that plagues leadership roles, from the political sphere to the business world, is cemented by the continued imbalances in top U.N. positions. Despite the organization's repeated affirmation of 50/50 gender parity, a 2015 report revealed that only 22 percent of all U.N. leadership was female. With the exception of U.S. representative Samantha PowerSamantha Jane PowerPresident Trump's strike of choice Obama reveals his top books of 2019 Former US envoy Samantha Power: Trump finding 'new ways to compensate Putin for election interference' MORE, every member of the Security Council is male. This stark discrepancy within one of the most influential international bodies in the world must be redressed.

Expanding women's participation in decision-making processes is an integral component of rectifying the pervasive, global gender biases that affect almost every component of daily life. It is irrefutable that excluding women from positions of power greatly limits the international community's potential progress. In the battle for fairer representation, the appointment of the U.N. secretary-general is a vital opportunity to take an unequivocal stance in support of gender equality.

The choice of the U.N.'s top diplomat is a critical one, and thoughtful consideration should be given to a selection that will demonstrate a serious commitment to progress on women's rights. As debates over gender and sexuality grow ever more contentious, sexual violence in conflict continues to disproportionately impact women and girls. Extremism is on the rise, and along with it, horrific acts perpetrated against female populations have captured the world's attention.

It has increasingly become a priority to engage women in peacemaking and conflict prevention, among other processes addressing the immense challenges the international community faces today. A female secretary-general has the potential to fundamentally transform the U.N.'s approach to global governance and diplomacy. As a member of an often politically marginalized group, a woman leader may be in a better position to fully understand the power of bridge-building and constructive compromise, bringing new perspectives to a table that has long been male-dominated.

It is also crucial to consider the symbolic significance the U.N. secretary-general wields as a figure that holds center stage in the global arena. Electing a woman to serve as the organization's chief administrative officer would send a dramatic message, one heard around the world. It would affirm that gender is not a stumbling block, an obstacle that hinders ambition and accomplishment.

Such an appointment would indicate that women as well as men can take up the mantle of leadership, and that it is not unrealistic for young girls to aspire towards the highest rungs of global power. It would reiterate the central importance of equal and active engagement of women at all levels of influence, and in doing so, convey that gender equality is a goal very much worth taking a stand for.

It is time for the United Nations to lead by example by selecting its first female secretary-general. It is not conducive to progress for the international community to consistently fail to fully realize the potential of half the world's population. Electing one of the exceptionally qualified female candidates as leader of the U.N. would demonstrate a refusal to leave this potential untapped.

As the General Assembly's Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women states, "the full and complete development of a country, the welfare of the world and the cause of peace require the maximum participation of women on equal terms with men in all fields." There is no better moment than now to act on this resolution.

Grieboski is the chairman and CEO of Grieboski Global Strategies, founder and chairman of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, and founder and secretary-general of the Interparliamentary Conference on Human Rights and Religious Freedom.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.