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Three Women on Shortlist to Take Over Helm at the U.N


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Along one wall in the visitor’s lobby of the United Nations hang the portraits of eight men, including Ban Ki-moon, the current secretary-general, who have presided over the institution since it was founded in 1945.

A new portrait is due to appear on that wall soon and there is a pretty good chance it will bear the visage of a woman.

Three out of the seven officially declared candidates for the next Secretary-General are women (more candidates may be nominated over the coming weeks). And while it is not the first time a woman has been in the running for the job, it is the first time that one, let alone three, has a viable chance of getting it.

Here’s a closer look at the three female candidates:

Irina Bokova (Bulgaria), UNESCO Director-General and former foreign minister of Bulgaria, is a favorite of many for her experience leading one of the largest U.N. agencies. She has long championed human rights, cultural dialogue and gender equality.

Vesna Pusić (Croatia), deputy speaker of the Croatian Parliament and former first deputy prime minister and Croatian minister of foreign and European affairs, has been very successful in national politics and is an accomplished sociologist.

Natalia Gherman (Moldova), former minister of foreign affairs and European integration of Moldova, is a career diplomat admired for her negotiation and conflict resolution skills. In 2014 The Guardian U.S. named her one of the “seven women to watch in global politics who are leading positive change all over the world.”

Selection Process

You might have noticed all three (as well as three out of the four male candidates) come from Eastern Europe. This is not a coincidence, but rather in line with the unwritten rule of regional rotation and that it is now Eastern Europe’s “turn” to produce a secretary-general.

That tradition is one of the many arcane aspects of the selection process, which, with few official rules to govern it, has historically involved horse-trading and secret deals behind closed doors.

The choosing process involves the U.N. Security Council settling on a single nominee who is acceptable to the five permanent member states with veto-wielding power on the council: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. The group sends that name to the U.N. General Assembly for its rubber stamp.

This time around, however, the two main bodies of the U.N. are heeding some of the calls for greater transparency and more input from member states.

For the first time, they have asked member states to nominate candidates for the position and will give them opportunities to ask the candidates questions over three days of informal dialogues in April. The Security Council will remain influential in the process, but the General Assembly will have a greater than usual say in the matter and could be in a position to make an informed decision after getting to know and debating the merits of all the candidates.

The notion that it is high time for a woman to take the reins of the U.N. has gained momentum over the past year, both within the institution and in popular opinion, with many civil society groups advocating and campaigning for it.

A female secretary-general would not necessarily compensate for or correct the gender imbalances that prevail at the higher levels of the U.N. Secretariat. Yet, the symbolism could set a new tone and nudge the grizzled institution to internalize the wisdom of its own insistence that including women in decision-making produces better outcomes for all.

Whoever assumes the position will serve a five-year term beginning in January 2017, which can be renewed once for an additional five years.


This piece was written by Alana Chloe Esposito, an independent writer interested in international humanitarian and human rights law, development and cultural diplomacy. She is the U.N. correspondent for Women’s eNews.


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