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2016 Potential Landmark Year for Women Leaders in US and UN

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 12 2016 (IPS) - The United Nations is hoping 2016 will be a landmark year for gender empowerment – not only for the world body but also for the United States.

“The empowerment of women is real,“ says UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson of Sweden. “It is a remarkable moment where key candidates for the next President of the United States (POTUS) and for the next Secretary-General of the United Nations (SGUN) are women.”

But will this be a political reality or a floating fantasy?

Asked about history-in-the-making, UN Assistant Secretary-General Lakshmi Puri, told IPS: “Yes, it will be historic and game changing –if and when that happens, because it would be the first time ever since the founding of the UN and the USA.”

First and foremost, she said, imagine the symbolism of the POTUS and the Commander-in-Chief of the most powerful country, largest democracy and economy of the world and a consistent advocate and global leader on gender equality and women’s rights and women’s empowerment, being a woman?

“Similarly imagine the symbolism of the United Nations — the World Government, peacemaker and peace builder, standard-setter and upholder of human rights, including that of women and girls, and of sustainable development and climate action, leader in humanitarian action — being a woman,” said Puri, who is also deputy executive director of UN Women.

She said it would be a signal not only to the US government and the people but also to the patriarchal political systems in the world that have to deal with a Woman POTUS.

Also imagine, she noted, what electricity will be generated by a woman SGUN in the UN system – in the Secretariat, and among member states and civil society. And their agendas and representation.
She also said that two world women leaders could go beyond symbolism for the gender equality agenda– which is huge in itself— and change the realities for women and girls around the world.

With the current race for nominations for the upcoming US presidential elections in November, there are two women candidates among half a dozen men: former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a Democrat; and Carly Fiorina, a Republican and former chief executive officer of Hewlett Packard.

As the campaign continues at a feverish pace, there is widespread speculation that Clinton will emerge as the Democratic candidate for the presidency at the Democratic convention on July 25.

At the United Nations, there is an intense campaign for a woman to be elected Secretary-General – which will be a historic first in the 70-year-old Organisation which has been routinely headed by men since its founding.

The list of declared and undeclared candidates include: Michelle Bachelet, current president of Chile and former executive director of UN Women; Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, director-general of the Paris-based UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO); Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and current Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP); and Kristalina Georgieva of Bulgaria, a vice president of the European Commission.

The two Bulgarians are likely to be in the forefront, because under a system of geographical rotation, the post of secretary-general should now go to an Eastern European.

The others singled out as potential candidates include President Ellen Johnson of Liberia; Christine Legard of France and head of the International Monetary Fund; and Alicia Barcena Ibarra of Mexico, executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

But the final winner may well be out of the current list of candidates.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who finishes his term end December, has repeatedly said it’s high time for the secretary-general to be a woman. The new SG will take office January 2017.

Yasmeen Hassan, Global Executive Director of the New York-based Equality Now, told IPS 2016 could well be a landmark year for the political participation of women.

“We could realistically see a woman leader of the UN because of the many qualified women around the world who could fill the position of Secretary-General, and a more transparent selection process that we and our partners have been advocating for.”

She said a woman at the helm of the UN could contribute greatly to achieving global peace and security, and transform attitudes, behaviors and social norms for how women and girls are valued and treated around the world.

“This would further help to break down glass ceilings for women, while girls will also be able to see that there are no limits to what position they can aspire. A female US president is also a strong possibility and one that would send a very important message too,” Hassan declared.

Shannon Kowalski, Director of Advocacy and Policy at International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC), told IPS 2016 could be historic for women and girls—but only if countries follow through on the commitments made in the 2030 Agenda and in the Beijing Platform for Action—the agreement forged two decades ago to fulfill women’s rights.

“We still have a long way to go,” she cautioned.

Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, International Coordinator at the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, a programme partner of the International Civil society Action Network, was more skeptical.

“It’s time to separate the facts from false claims,” she told IPS.

UN SG Ban Ki-moon says he has appointed an unprecedented number of women leaders in the United Nations (source: SG’s foreword to the Global Study on UNSCR 1325).

However, in an article circulated in December 2015, Karin Landgren, a visiting fellow at the Center on International Cooperation, reports that last year’s selections for the senior most level of UN staff have skewed nearly 92 per cent male, she pointed out.

Between 1 January and 10 December 2015, 22 men and only two women were appointed as UN undersecretaries-general.

Moreover, Landgren’s article pointed out that in 2015, six women undersecretaries-general were replaced by men, further undercutting the goal of building female leadership within the UN.

“With such claims from current leadership, which is predominantly male leadership, I will stick to the old adage ‘to see is to believe’.”

It’s also sad to think that having a woman president is still a novelty in the US. The absolute necessity of women’s leadership and participation in decision-making is already an establish fact and not a novelty act—-in many countries, she argued.

UN Security Council resolution (UNSCR) 2122 emphasizes women’s leadership and participation in decision-making as well as the protection of women’s human rights as critical elements of international peace and security.

“I would stress that these are at the core of any civilized society and functioning democracies. They are requisites for sustainable development; and they are a requirement in successful humanitarian operations,” said Cabrera-Balleza.

Women’s leadership and participation in decision-making will not only contribute to good governance. It will redefine governance and power.

She said the campaign for a woman UN Secretary-General is a commendable effort.

“To have a woman SG in the UN should have happened decades ago not after 70 years! However, I would underscore that it should be the RIGHT woman!,” she declared.

She said the right woman is someone who would challenge the conventional definition of power and authority.

“And it is someone who is not beholden to big campaign contributors, political parties or permanent members of the Security Council. It is someone who is deeply connected to civil society and is beholden only to the people, the 99 % whom she is supposed to serve.”

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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  • moigirl

    Yes,yes,and yes. But until the equal rights amendment in the U.S. Is nationally ratified how is it possible to safeguard our commander and chief from legally allowable discrimination. I say, step one: ratify.
    Don’t build a house on sand

  • eusebio manuel

    Yes I agree Woman Secretary General of the United Nations