This week, the good, the bad and the ugly of the global political elite met in New York for an institution that the U.S. loves to hate. The United Nations General Assembly, the most important gathering on the international diplomacy calendar, is even more significant than usual this year: World leaders are gearing up to choose the U.N.’s next secretary general, the planet’s next diplomat-in-chief.
When current Secretary General Ban Ki-moon steps down next year, he will be replaced by a candidate recommended to the General Assembly by the U.N.’s executive body, the Security Council. The result will not be made public until the fall of 2016, but politicking is already underway as Security Council members start assessing the potential candidates.
As the decision draws closer, the parameters of the race are becoming clearer. The next secretary general will likely be Eastern European. Eastern Europe is the only region never to have had its turn at the top job under the U.N.’s convention of regional “rotation.”
There is another, more important oversight in the U.N.’s 70-year history, though: The body designed to safeguard the collective hopes of humanity has only been headed by men. This is not okay. The next secretary general should be a woman. That wouldn’t only be a symbolic decision. It would have very concrete implications.
First, it would be an important step to address gender discrimination. One in three women around the world reports experiencing physical violence. Women are more likely than men to be subject to human trafficking, sexual and physical abuse. Electing a woman to head the U.N. can help raise gender discrimination to the top of the organization’s agenda and project that onto all member states.
Second, the U.N. has produced numerous reports that proved that strengthening the role and status of women is an effective tool for promoting international security and human development. If stronger representation for women can be such a positive force for peace, then our peace negotiator-in-chief should be a woman.
Third, a female U.N. Secretary General would be a fantastic inspiration for half of the planet, demonstrating that women can succeed in fields that, so far, have been dominated by men. It would be tremendously helpful to break this glass ceiling and the widespread and tragic belief that only men can lead. Women are also paid less for the work they do. They make up just 22 percent of global parliamentarians and, in the last 50 years, just 7.4 percent of countries have had a female head of state. Even the U.N. General Assembly, which elects a new president every year, has only chosen three women out of 69 sessions. It is high time the U.N. ended gender discrimination for the planet’s top diplomat and led by example. Millions of women throughout the world would dare to stand up and fight for their dreams and the service of their community.
Everybody in politics talks about women’s empowerment, but it is now time to act and name a woman to one of the world’s top jobs. With a number of highly qualified female candidates this time around, there is no valid reason not to do it. It would be a true mark of progress if 2016 saw the appointment of both the first female U.N. secretary general and the first female president of the United States.
Against this backdrop, several leading candidates are beginning to emerge. Irina Bokova, director general of UNESCO and Bulgaria’s official candidate, fulfills many of the required criteria and is seen by many as the front-runner. She has taken a strong stance on the fight against extremism and terror financing and is actively championing women empowerment and girls’ education. Croatian Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic is another talented female Eastern European candidate to have been officially nominated by her home government.
If the Eastern Europeans are unable to put forward a winning candidate, then other regions may have a shot. Helen Clark, the former prime minister of New Zealand and U.N. Development Program administrator, is already actively campaigning. She has great political experience and a strong track record on development issues. There are also a number of talented female candidates from Latin America, including Michelle Bachelet, the president of Chile.
With so many capable female candidates with great political, diplomatic and U.N. experience, there is just no excuse for the U.S. and the other members of the Security Council to once again neglect half of the planet when choosing our future U.N. secretary general. When the Security Council meets next year to pick the next leader, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power should do the right thing, and vote for the best woman for the job.