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UN all-male panel: Could no women be found?


December 9, 2015

Dear Mr. Secretary-General,

Two days ago, we took strong exception to the all-male panel discussion planned for today, December 9th, to review your Human Rights up Front initiative. We now take issue with your Deputy Spokesman’s claims that the UN tried to have other guests who were women, “but some of them were not able to attend at the last moment.”

Surely it is not felt that this disingenuous evasion would be taken seriously. We ask you, through the Office of the Spokesperson, to provide the names of the women who were invited but were not able to attend.

But there is a more serious set of questions at stake. Are you saying that no women could be found for the panel from amongst the women Permanent Representatives to the UN; no women sufficiently capable from the women on the high-level group for the Global Study of 1325; no adequately knowledgeable women from UN Women; no women from the academic community or the activist members of civil society? Do you not see, Mr. Secretary-General, what a slap in the face this is to women everywhere?

This panel was put together by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Was OHCHR never informed of your commitment to gender parity within the UN?

Your advisors will tell you that this is a minor matter that can be fixed by adding a token woman to the panel or by having a woman moderator. That’s a dreadfully blinkered view.

Mr. Secretary-General, you proclaim, at every turn, in every formal speech about women, your belief in gender equality. In the composition of this panel, nothing could have been easier than to establish parity. Your senior officials chose not to do so. The message to the Member States of the United Nations is that your senior officials do not take your views seriously and the issue is not important. Mr. Secretary-General, that constitutes a failure of your leadership.

In light of what has happened this week, surely it is time for you to state unequivocally that, at the very least, every panel constituted by the UN from this point forward will be gender balanced.  


Paula Donovan and Stephen Lewis

AIDS-Free World
Main Office Tel: +1 (212) 729-5084

Mr. Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General
Mr. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, High Commissioner for Human Rights
Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director, UN Women