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Wed Oct 5, 2016

How can the next Secretary-General signal an end to the UN's empty rhetoric on gender?

Antonio Guterres
(Photo: UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré)

The Security Council (14 men; 1 woman) has selected António Guterres (Portugal) to be the next Secretary-General of the United Nations. So much for shattering the glass ceiling with a woman Secretary-General.

From public platforms, António Guterres has declared himself a feminist. He has spoken out on the need for ‘clear benchmarks and deadlines’ to achieve gender parity at the UN.

Mr. Guterres, now is your chance to lead by example and show that your commitment to gender parity is real. It is standard practice for the most senior staff to submit their resignations when a new Secretary-General takes office; some, but not all, are then re-appointed. You have a one-time opportunity to start your tenure with a 50/50 gender balance at the top.

Ban Ki-moon has called himself a “champion of gender equality,” but the composition of the UN Secretariat under his leadership shows otherwise: in spite of a decades-old goal of gender parity at all levels of the UN, only 17 of the 79 Under Secretaries-General are women. With one bold move, you can signal that we’ve moved into the final days of the UN’s empty rhetoric about gender, and dramatically reshape the outlook of the Organization.

Gender parity isn’t an end in itself. But a power balance as stubbornly old-fashioned and off-kilter as the UN’s sends an unmistakable message. It’s a message that must be reversed. On January 1st, with a stroke of the pen, bring gender balance to top management.

Why make this commitment? Because it's 2016.