As the United Nations general session opens today, presided over for the first time by a woman, Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, women’s groups such as the National Organization for Women and Equality Now are arguing that the UN must select a woman as its next Secretary-General. Current Secretary-General Kofi Annan finishes his second term in December. A woman has never held the post of secretary-general in the UN’s 61-year history.
While the Security Council, which is composed of five permanent members and ten elected members, has already had two unofficial “straw” polls for Annan’s replacement, none of those considered in the polls were women. On Friday, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania nominated the first woman to ever be considered for secretary-general, Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga. UN tradition dictates that the next Secretary-General should be from Asia, limiting Vike-Freiberga’s chances of being elected.
Jessica Newirth, president of Equality Now, points out in a Women’s Media Center commentary that there are many qualified women that could take the post, such as Prime Minister Helen Clark of New Zealand, President Tarja Halonen of Finland, and former UN High Commissioner Sadako Ogata of Japan, among others. Kofi Annan has also said publicly he would like to see a woman be the next UN Secretary-General, calling women’s role in decision making “central to the advancement of women around the world, and to the progress of humankind as a whole,” according to Neuwirth.
Final voting on recommended nominees will most likely occur in the General Assembly in mid-October, though it could occur as late as December.