International Women’s Day

At a program (webcast) marking International Women’s Day, SG Kofi Annan praised the successes of female candidates in national election during 2005 and suggested the UN itself was ready for a female leader.

“I think we should see a clear message in the overwhelming success on women in presidential elections over the past year: the world is ready for a woman Secretary General, ” stated Annan to wide applause, afterwardly joking, “Some of my male colleagues are going to kill me, but that’s okay!”

UN Photo #113503 - Mark GartenEfforts to promote a female nominee have been less than encouraging than hoped. No woman candidate has officially declared or been nominated, though Latvian President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga is invariably suggested as a potential candidate, despite the fact she would likely draw a Russian veto. (Her comments critical of the P5 at the Davos conference lead many to doubt her chances as well.)

On SG Annan’s remarks, Equality Now President, Jessica Neuwirth, noted,

We are glad the Secretary-General mentioned the possibility of a woman Secretary-General and expressed his view that the world is ready.  Much of the world is ready and waiting. We are urging the Security Council to seek qualified women to serve in this post.  Unfortunately there is no such outreach effort that we are aware of, although the Platform for Action adopted in Beijing in 1995 specifically called for the creation of “mechanisms to nominate women candidates for appointment to senior posts in the United Nations.”  As this language was agreed more than ten years ago, there is no reason any of his male colleagues should want to kill him, as he suggested they would. His comment is a sad reflection of where things REALLY are.

Last year, Equality Now launched a campaign to nominally encourage female nominees for the top post. Unfortunately, the laudableness of this goal may be undermined by the campaign’s symbolism. No one of the suggested nominees – all unquestionably qualified – have expressed formal interest in being nominated, and several have recently succeeded in securing powerful national positions, as recognized by SG Annan. A number also are African nationals, which would markedly compete with the “traditional” geographic rotation following a 15-year stint of the position being held by African men. In contrast, Korean Times columnist Philip Dorsey Iglauer suggested that the regional criteria could strategically reinforce the qualifications of female nominees from Asia.

Update, March 15th: Equality Now President Jessica Neuwirth‘s article in today’s Washington Post – “Give the U.N.’s Reins to a Woman” – makes a strong case for the Security Council nominating a female candidate. Recognizing “the idea of a woman’s ‘turn’ [in itself] has not yet taken hold,” she notes four female leaders well qualified for the post in their experience and with the called-for “regional” qualification – Sadako Ogata (Japan), Nafis Sadik (Pakistan), Anson Chan (Hong Kong), Leticia Shahani (Philippines).

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