Antonio Gutteres, former prime minister of Portugal and leader of the UN refugee agency, was elected UN Secretary General last week, a disappointing end to a formal campaign attempting to elect a woman as the next leader of the United Nations.
While the United Nations has championed programs promoting gender equality and women’s rights, the organization has never elected a female Secretary General in its 70 year history.
7 women ran for the position to replace current Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, the 8th man to lead the United Nations since its founding. Leading candidate Irina Bokova of Bulgaria was widely seen as pro-Russian, while Argentinian Susana Malcorra was viewed as too supportive of the United States.
While both denied the allegations, the rumors harmed their chances of being elected due to the skepticism from the five permanent members of the Security Council. As permanent members, the United States and Russia will not vote for a candidate they feel will challenge their national interests. The lack of support for the remaining 5 female candidates was viewed as “shocking” and “disappointing.”
“Misogyny is baked into the system,” says Shazia Z. Rafi, the United Nations representative for the All Pakistan Women’s Association. Rafi believes electing a woman as Secretary General must be fiercely advocated for and will not simply happen in due time. Maria Emma Mejia Velez, an ambassador to Columbia, attempted to rally support for a female leader of the United Nations by establishing a coalition 60 countries to voice their support for female candidates, calling on the organization to lead the world by example.
Security Council Resolution 1325 urges members of the United Nations to make a conscious effort to include women in all levels of national and international governing bodies. Right now the United Nations is failing to do that. While women make up slightly more than half the population, only 6% are heads of state, foreign ministers, or national envoys of the Security Council nations. Several analyses have found that most senior jobs within the organization go to men and the UN senior management group consists of 12 women and 28 men.
Mr. Gutteres now faces immense pressure to select a woman as his deputy.