United Nations aims for gender balance by 2021

UN General Assembly

In this file photo, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, left, addresses the Security Council meeting on peace and security in Africa, Thursday Aug. 10, 2017 at U.N. headquarters. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Women are breaking the glass ceiling at the United Nations. The world body has women at some of its most senior levels, as part of an ambitious strategy to narrow the gender gap.

CGTN U.N. correspondent Liling Tan filed this report.

A year ago, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres made a promise to the world.

“Today, I’m proud to announce my new Gender Parity Strategy. The targets are bold, but realistic. We should achieve parity at senior levels by 2021, and across the board by 2028,” Guterres said.

One year on, the U.N. Chief has reached parity within his cabinet. It now includes:

  • Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General (the U.N.’s second highest ranking position)
  • Rosemary DiCarlo, head of the Department of Political Affairs
  • Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF
  • Michelle Bachelet, High Commissioner for Human Rights

In this file photo, British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, left, and American Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Rosemary DiCarlo vote on a small arms resolution during a Security Council meeting on small arms, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013 at United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Parity has also been reached among U.N. Resident Coordinators in charge of country teams abroad.

Dr. Paige Arthur at the Center on International Cooperation at New York University, which independently monitors data on senior U.N. appointments, says the gender gap at this level has effectively been halved since Guterres assumed office in 2017.

“The Secretary General is on track not just to meet the targets, but also to beat them, in relation to senior appointments,” Arthur said. “By our calculations, he will actually achieve parity in senior appointments by the end of 2019, which is well ahead of the target that he’s set for himself in 2021.”

In this file photo, Henrietta Fore, executive director of UNICEF, speaks during an interview with the Associated Press, in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, March 8, 2018. .(AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

The progress is unprecedented, but the goal isn’t a new one. What’s changed is that the U.N. is now armed with a road map and a task force, with a woman in the lead.

“The first challenge is that the strategy is of course about numbers, because ultimately you will be successful if you have reached 50-50,” Ana Maria Menendez, U.N. Under Secretary-General and Senior Advisor on Policy said.

“But it’s not totally a question of numbers. It’s also a question of a cultural shift. So you need to change the mentality, and the mentality so far in the organization – as in many other work places, enterprises, companies, governments, universities – has always been male-dominated.”

It’s also about overcoming the U.N.’s massive bureaucracy, making work environments more inclusive, and filling civilian positions in the field.

“At headquarters it is easier to recruit women, but it’s difficult sometimes in the field, and this is because in the field, we need specialists in logistics, in engineers, and in general terms, not only in the U.N., in the job market you always find less women in these kinds of professions or specialties than men,” Menendez explained. “So this is another challenge.”

In this file photo, United Nations General Assembly president-elect Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces, left, listens to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (not pictured), during their meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, Monday, Aug. 6, 2018. (Roman Pilipey/Pool Photo via AP)

The Gender Parity Strategy only covers U.N. civilian staff and not military and police personnel. That includes groups like the U.N.’s blue helmets, which are deployed by member countries.

But overall, the U.N. and member nations seem to be warming up to the idea of having a woman in charge, electing Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces of Ecuador as the new president of the General Assembly.