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It is time for a woman to lead the UN
October 19, 2015, 1:19 pm

Recently when I read that Kenya was lobbying for its extremely capable and first woman foreign minister Ameenah Mohammad to fill the UN Secretary General post after Ban Ki-moon exits at the end of 2016, I thought how apt it would be to see a woman leading the UN for the first time on its 70th anniversary.

In a world hypnotized by stereotyped sexual objectification glamorized by the advertisement industry, one can be forgiven for missing the real, hardworking and intelligent women lost in this male gaze milieu. There are a plethora of reasons that experts cite for this invisibility of women’s cerebral power, but one significant factor in my view is women’s glaring absence from the leadership of international organizations.

Of all the international and continental organizations that exist today it is only the African Union (AU) that is led by a woman. This is a big leap for Africa as its international and regional counterparts such as the Arab League, the European Union, NATO, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and above all the UN, are all led by men.

Only four out of the UN’s 17 specialized agencies are led by women. They include the International Monetary Fund, UNESCO, World Health Organization, and UN Women. Financial institutions such as the World Bank, African Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and Arab Monetary Fund all have men in the driving seat.

On international and regional courts, only the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has a woman president while its counterparts, such as the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights, European Court of Human Rights, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and the International Court of Justice, have men perched on the top.

On the domestic level, according to a UN Women report, women account for only 22 percent of national parliaments as of August 2015, while only 11 women served as Head of State and 13 worked as Head of Government out of 193 UN Member States.

This is a pathetic record for the world which always sings about women’s empowerment but fails to translate the pompous slogans and agreements on gender equality into reality, particularly as women make up half of the world’s population, and studies have proven that, worldwide, girls outperform boys in education.

To elect a woman, therefore, for the top UN seat at the end of 2016 when Ban Ki-moon’s second term expires may be a good way to catapult women to world leadership and to cast a positive light on them.

Since its creation in 1945, eight men have served as Secretary General, who came from Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America. But no continent has until now put a woman’s name forward as a candidate, and there is now a campaign to appoint a woman for the top seat of the UN. A number of articles have been written and there is even a movement called “Campaign to Elect A woman UN Secretary- General” with a dedicated website and a list of outstanding women from around the world who could fill the post.

The world is in need of having a woman who, in my view, is better positioned to understand women’s issues such as violence against women, female genital mutilation, family choices, trafficking, family health and education, gender equality, as well as issues that are core to achieving global peace and prosperity. And what a powerful message it would be to the whole world to elect an African Muslim woman, allowing Kenya, which has given us the first black American President, to once again give us the first black woman UN Secretary-General.


Bashir Goth is an African commentator on political, social, and cultural affairs.

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