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More Women for UN Senior Posts

Secretary-General Kofi Annan (left) with Anwarul Karim Chowdhury, the Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations and President of Security Council for the month of June 2001. Photo taken on 30 May 2001United Nations, New York (UN photo by Eskinder Debebe)

Anwarul K. Chowdury during his post as Under Secretary-General, High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries, and Small Island Developing States. (UN photo by van-Schneider 02 April 2002)

Ban Ki-moon UN Secretary General and Amina Muhammed Special Adviser on Post-2015 Development Planning, following Ms. Mohammed’s swearing-in ceremony. 06 August 2012. (UN Photo/Evan Schneider)

Anwarul Chowdhury, addresses the UN Youth Assembly. 07 August 2013 (UN Photo/Evan Schneide)

Anwarul K. Chowdury during his post as Under Secretary-General, High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries, and Small Island Developing States. (UN photo by van-Schneider 02 April 2002)

Anwarul K. Chowdury during his post as Under Secretary-General, High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries, and Small Island Developing States. (UN photo by van-Schneider 02 April 2002)

By Erol Avdovic (UNITED NATIONS) – Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury is a well-recognized analyst of the United Nations and for many years the champion for sustainable peace and development. He is a former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the UN. Mr. Chaowdhury was a Chairman of the UN General Assembly’s Fifth (Administrative and Budgetary) Committee in 1997-1998, approving UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s first reform budget.

And, among other important UN duties, like being Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to UN (1996-2001), he is an Initiator of Security Council resolution 1325 underscoring women’s equality.

The UN Security Council resolution (S/RES/1325) on women, peace and security, adopted in October 2000, is considering to be a benchmark one. It reaffirms the important role of women and urges all actors to increase the participation of women and incorporate gender perspectives in all United Nations system.

At the very beginning of our conversation ambassador Chowdhury did not hide his disappointment, as the new Secretary General of the UN will not be a women. Despite the highly qualified seven women candidates in the UN Secretary General selection process this 2016, to succeed Ban Ki-moon at the leading UN position, no one of them didn’t get full backing of the UN Security Council.

The interview begins with the question, is this reason more a woman to be Deputy to the new UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

 

It looks like everybody at the UN system were giving lips service to the idea for the first woman as a UN SG. Should the new Deputy Secretary General be a woman and perhaps from Eastern Europe according to the geographical order that was put as a criteria, but it is not followed strictly?

 

The grapevine is spreading that one of the East European women candidates for S-G would get the post Deputy Secretary-General as a part of the deal surrounding the new SG. This, however, is not a big deal as we already had two woman DS-Gs in the past. It should also be remembered that when the DS-G post was created in 1998 by the General Assembly – decided as I was chairing its Administrative and Budgetary Committee that time – it was the understanding that if the S-G is from an industrialized country, the DS-G would be from a developing country and vice-versa. Similarly, if the S-G is a man, the DS-G should be a woman – though no possibility of vice-versa till now. This double balance in UN’s two highest posts has been ignored on occasions in recent years. Mention is also being made for a woman from Africa for the DS-G post. Politics will decide who is appointed finally to that post.

 

Not an adequate number

 

Why so small numbers of women are among UN permanent representatives and in United Nations administration; what should be done for more gender equality?

 

A simple and direct answer to that question is: it is due mainly to a high degree

Secretary-General Kofi Annan (left) with Anwarul Karim Chowdhury, the Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations and President of Security Council for the month of June 2001. Photo taken on 30 May 2001United Nations, New York (UN photo by Eskinder Debebe)

Secretary-General Kofi Annan (left) with Anwarul Karim Chowdhury, the Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations and President of Security Council for the month of June 2001. Photo taken on 30 May 2001United Nations, New York (UN photo by Eskinder Debebe)

of insensitivity to women’s equality of participation at all decision making levels. Both Member States and UN system as a whole are giving lip service to this matter without effectively ensuring the equality objectives as adopted by all UN bodies, particularly the General Assembly and Security Council whose decisions are to be accepted and carried out according to the UN Charter. We all know how foot-dragging continues undermining the full and effective implementation of the UNSCR 1325 for women’s equality of participation at all levels.

The number of women on the crutial position is certainly not in accordance to the well proclamed gender equity; men continue to rule the World. Can the new UN Secretary General change this?

There are only about 35 women Permanent Representatives to UN out of 193 Member States. This paltry number can be changed in a big way if Member-States decide to appoint woman Ambassadors in increasing numbers. That decision lies solely in the hands of the appointing governments. This is one action the Member States can take unilaterally for the world’s most important multilateral body.

In terms of gender equality, now that a new helmsman of the UN will be in charge from 1 January 2017, a sea-change is possible to set the long-entrenched inequality against women right. This can be done if the new S-G announces a real 50-50 gender balance at the level of USGs and ASGs by clearly laying down an implementable time-bound plan in a transparent way within the first 100 days in office.

 

Outdated personnel policy

 

Will that kind of personnel policy to which the decisions are taken behind closed doors ever going to change in the UN culture? What needs to be done to turn this around, especially when it comes to “women issue”?

Anwarul Chowdhury, addresses the UN Youth Assembly. 07 August 2013 (UN Photo/Evan Schneide)

Anwarul Chowdhury, addresses the UN Youth Assembly. 07 August 2013 (UN Photo/Evan Schneide)

I believe politics always trump women’s equality agenda, violating UN Charter’s article 8 which underscores the eligibility and equality of men and women to participate in any capacity in all its organs – principal or subsidiary. The true realization of this Charter objective should begin by enforcing this fundamental policy from top down – from the S-G all the way to junior-most professional levels.

Looks like men and national politics in general role the World. But, why is not the proclaimed sprit of the United Nations – we the People – that should be respected more?

It is a pity that the UN system is full of appointments made under intense political pressure by Member States individually or as a group. Another aspect of this is the practice of identifying some USG posts for P-5 and big contributors to the UN budget. What makes this worse is that individuals to these posts are nominated by their governments, thereby violating article 100 of the UN Charter which says that “In the performance of their duties the Secretary-General and the staff shall not seek or receive instructions from any government or from any other authority external to the Organization.” The reality in the Secretariat does not reflect the Charter objectives – I believe it never did.

So, how Mr. Guterres, the new UN Secretary General can avoid that negative trend in the recruitment policy?

One way to avoid that would be to stop nomination and lobbying – formally or informally – for staff appointments giving the S-G some flexibility to select senior personnel based on “competence and integrity”. Of course, one can point out inadequacies and possible pitfalls of this idea. But, there the leadership of the S-G will determine how he can make effective use of such flexibility being made available to him.

A very negative influence on the recruitment process at the UN, not to speak of senior appointments, has been the pressure of donors – both traditional and new ones – to secure appointments of staff and consultants, mostly through extra-budgetary resources and other funding supports. This has serious implications for the goals and objectives as well as political mission and direction of the UN in its activities.

What about the reforms? It looks like they are also influenced by the national politics of Member States and not driven by the common agenda?

No Secretary-General would be willing or be supported by the rest of the UN system to undertake any drastic reform of the recruitment process for both the senior management or at other levels. Also, at the end, he has to face the Member States in the General Assembly to get their nod for his reforms. The determination and effectiveness of leadership of the new S-G will be tested in having the courage to push a drastic overhaul of the appointments and recruitments practice within the UN system as a whole.

 

Credit to Ban Ki-moon

 

How you evaluate the personal appointment policy of outgoing Secretary General Ban Ki-moon? What did he miss to do to change all this in different direction?

To give S-G Ban his due, I would give him credit for appointing a number of women USGs and ASGs, which are commonly known as the political appointments. But, unfortunately this positive trend could not be retained in the real sense. Some of his later appointments replaced the departing woman incumbent by a man. So he earns the praise for appointing a good number of women in senior posts but his subsequent appointments undermined that expanded presence of women at the leadership levels of UN.

At the end we hear that Amina Mohammed* the Environment Minister of the Nigeria, and well know UN figure – will become new UN Deputy Secretary General. What do you say about this selection?

Ban Ki-moon UN Secretary General and Amina Muhammed Special Adviser on Post-2015 Development Planning, following Ms. Mohammed’s swearing-in ceremony. 06 August 2012. (UN Photo/Evan Schneider)

Ban Ki-moon UN Secretary General and Amina Muhammed Special Adviser on Post-2015 Development Planning, following Ms. Mohammed’s swearing-in ceremony. 06 August 2012. (UN Photo/Evan Schneider)

Amina is very good and very outspoken. I hope she will represent not only herself or the SG but half of the humanity (50 percent world’s women population). We look forward for her to play a major role as the major woman player at the UN system.

* Note: Amina Mohammed was described as a key player in the Post- 2015 development agenda, and is also the Special Adviser to the current UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

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