Will one of these women be the next United Nations Secretary General?

Discussions have begun on who will be the next United Nations Secretary General. Ban Ki-Moon has done satisfactory job as Secretary General, with a notable exception. On the anniversary of the landmark Security Council Resolution 1325, the first of seven resolutions on Women, Peace and Security, he announced a High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations which did not include gender concerns and was to be undertaken by a 14 member panel containing only three women.

The United Nations has a significant role in achieving gender equality around the world. This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, the declaration on equality, development and peace, made at the Fourth World Conference on Women, in Beijing in September 1995. It was a landmark moment for women’s rights that has not yet been surpassed.

Isn't it time a woman was on this wall?

Isn’t it time a woman was on this wall?

As competition for the top job at the United Nations starts to heat up, it seems poignant to reflect on the number of excellent, meritorious women who could be candidates for the top job.

No head of state or world leader has been elected Secretary General of the United Nations. In many ways, this makes sense. In the General Assembly, where the Secretary General shines, it is one country, one vote. The UN is just a collection of Member States who each value their own sovereignty above all else; it is their national leaders that matter. So I can see how it might be odd for them to choose one of their own ‘equals’ to elevate to the top job. It seems UN envoys and foreign ministers are more popular for the position.

This brings us to a key issue of gender and merit. Would a woman with this type of experience be considered sufficiently meritorious? As in any political process, selection is the result of a range of factional and geographic interests. Not knowing the answer to this question, I have compiled a list of highly meritorious women suitable to be the next United Nations Secretary General within the confines of the real political and geographic interests at play.

It is improbable that someone from one of the permanent five members of the Security Council would be elected Secretary General. The P-5 have too much power already, it is highly unlikely that remaining Member States would increase their influence so, counting out candidates like Valerie Amos, Susan Rice and Ségolène Royal.

Three of the past four terms of a Secretary General have been filled by an African. While Kofi Annan’s dual term as Secretary General is still fresh in many people’s mind, there are several highly qualified African women suitable for the role. Notwithstanding the questions of a former head of state becoming Secretary General, Liberia’s current President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf would be an excellent candidate. With significant peace and security credentials, she is seeing her country of Liberia through an international health crisis of a magnitude that behooves the attention of Member States. Nigeria’s current Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Joy Uche Angela Ogwu, has incredibly good negotiation skills, good multilateral credentials and strong connections to South America.

The former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark has been a popular suggestion for the top job. Currently the head of the United Nations Development Program, Clark has overseen an important last push to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Which, though not without disappointments, have been incredibly successful. Clark is well liked internationally, with sound environmental and social credentials. She gained the latter from the policies and portfolios she pursued in the New Zealand Government, the former from action on climate change during her time at the United Nations. However, New Zealand falls into the Western European and Other regional group of the United Nations. Although it has been some time since the Secretary General was drawn from this group, the region has still had twice as many Secretary Generals as the next most represented region.

Kristalina Georgieva

On the other hand, the Eastern European regional group has not had a single Secretary General. From their ranks, Kristalina Georgieva would make an excellent candidate. From Bulgaria, she is a former Vice President of the World Bank. As European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid, and Crisis Response she was responsible for coordinating all European Union aid to the 2010 Haiti earthquake, pushing the European Union to be the biggest donor to the disaster response. She also coordinated the European Union humanitarian response to the earthquake in Chile and floods in Pakistan and led ongoing responses to the food crisis in the Sahel, and conflict in South Sudan. She has been credited with improving co-ordination within the European Union (and within the Commission), and between humanitarian and military players in order to meet the dual challenge posed by expanding needs and shrinking budgets; skills that would be highly valuable at the United Nations. The European Voice newspaper awarded her the prestigious “Commissioner of the Year”. She is currently serving as European Commissioner of Budget and Human Resources.

Coming with significant multilateral experience, Estonian diplomat, Tiina Intelmann would also be a good choice. Educated in Russia, she served as Estonia’s Permanent Representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe before becoming the Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York in 2005. In 2011, she was elected as President of the Assembly of States Parties of the International Criminal Court, the first woman to hold the position. She is now head of the European Union Delegation in Liberia.

Tiina Intelmann

There are a large number of wonderful strong women from Latin America who would make great candidates. Academic and human rights expert María Perceval has served as Argentina’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations since 2012, during which time they were also on the Security Council. Brasil’s Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, has been in Foreign Service since the seventies with suitable multilateral experience. She served in the United Nations and across South America, and is now the Ambassador to Germany.

I think Michelle Bachelet would make an incredible Secretary General. A qualified paediatrician, she has excels at most things she puts her mind to. Bachelet contested a mayoral election before being appointed Minister of Health in 2000. She then served as Minister for Defence from 2002. In 2006 she was elected President of Chile, the first woman to have the role and the first woman who was not the wife of a previous head of state or political leader to reach the presidency of a Latin American nation in a direct election. In 2010, Ban Ki-Moon announced she would be the inaugural head of UN Women. She excelled in the position but resigned the role in 2013 to again contest the Chilean Presidential election. She was reelected, with her Presidential term due to end in 2018. Meritorious Bachelet may be, but the Chilean economy and influence far outweigh that of New Zealand but Bachelet would carry with her the weight of tensions with Argentina and Peru.

María Ángela Holguín Cuéllar

Currently serving as Colombia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, María Ángela Holguín Cuéllar would be an excellent choice from Latin America. She certainly fits the more typical career type of a Secretary General. She served as Colombia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York from 2004-2006. As well as her multilateral experience, she has development and economic credentials from her time at the Development Bank of Latin America. She is credited with spearheading the renewal of diplomatic ties between her country and Venezuela, showing the negotiation skills required for peace building and good office of the Secretary General.

Only time will tell who gets the job next. But it will be interesting to see if one of these ladies is selected.

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