8 March 2007
Deputy Secretary-General

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



Following is the text of UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro’s remarks on International Women’s Day, “Breaking Barriers: Achieving Balance in Numbers and Work-Life”, in New York, today, 8 March:

I am happy and moved to be with you on my first International Women’s Day as Deputy Secretary-General.

Let me welcome the eminent guests who have joined us, and thank Rachel Mayanja for bringing us together.

Above all, let me send my warmest wishes to all my women colleagues in the United Nations family around the world.  It is an honour for me to represent you all on this day.

More than 60 years ago, the United Nations Charter proclaimed the equal rights of men and women.  Since then, the UN family has worked around the world to build better lives for women through its efforts in health, education, governance and peacebuilding.

Inside our own house, we have also proclaimed the equal rights of men and women.  Resolution after resolution of the General Assembly has called for 50-50 gender balance in the staff of the United Nations system.

But, so far, we have failed to make it a reality.  As recently as last year, our own statistics showed an unacceptable lack of progress in achieving gender balance among United Nations staff.

For the past eight years, the share of women Secretariat staff in professional and higher categories increased by an average of only 0.35 per year.

Between 2004 and 2006, the proportion of women in most professional grades actually decreased.

During the same period, there was close to a 20 per cent rise in the proportion of women leaving the Organization voluntarily before retirement age.

Simple projections show that, at the current glacial pace, we would achieve gender balance at the USG level in 2071 and, even more alarmingly, at the D-1 level in 2130.

The truth is that, were we to judge UN managers today on their performance on gender, few of them would get a passing grade.

How can we do better?  Only if managers at all levels are bold, creative and ready to demonstrate that we mean business in reaching gender parity throughout the United Nations.

That means making more innovative and more determined efforts to recruit and retain qualified women.

It means holding heads of departments and line managers accountable in a consistent way, and emphasizing women’s representation at senior and decision-making levels.

It means exploring temporary special measures of the type that have been used by some Member States to reach legislated gender targets.

It means producing up-to-date, disaggregated statistics at all levels -- and using them to full effect.  Such statistics are essential to ensuring that targets are set and met, and to holding managers accountable.

It means implementing work-life policies for both women and men, a condition for achieving balance in every sense of the word.  Those policies include flexible working hours and working-week arrangements, job-sharing, parental leave and telecommuting.

As a colleague, a woman and a mother, I cannot stress these aspects enough.

Let me also pledge to explore ways of expanding day-care facilities available to UN staff.  In New York, the current facility has an average wait of a year for every child.  This situation is unworkable. 

The picture is not all gloomy.  We do have positive experiences and examples to replicate and build on.

Entities that have done well on gender balance among their staff, such as UNICEF and UNFPA, provide best practices from which we all need to learn.

We should also draw on the lessons of successful external partners and agents of change, some of whom are with us today.  I am grateful to them for coming to share their perspectives.

Meanwhile, I am heartened that some positive developments have taken place recently in our own house.  Let me mention just a few.

We are taking a two-pronged approach to recruiting and retaining more qualified women -- by reaching out more systematically and by implementing work-life policies more effectively.

The Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women is now a member of the Management Committee, the Senior Management Group and the Management Performance Board, and thereby ensures a gender perspective for their deliberations.

New guidelines state that, in any department failing to meet its target for the professional levels and above, the head is obliged to formally justify the proposed selection of a male candidate when a woman candidate is equally qualified.

Finally, new terms of reference are being developed for departmental focal points, to ensure that they are listened to by senior managers and can participate meaningfully in all processes that relate to gender balance.

Achieving gender equality is not an issue separate from the others on our agenda.  It goes to the heart of what our Secretary-General has set out to achieve: changing the working culture of the United Nations and building a staff that is mobile, multifunctional, flexible and accountable -- one which lives up to the highest ethical standards.

Gender balance, and with it, work-life balance, is imperative to our productivity, our credibility and our humanity.  I am grateful to every one of you for your commitment to that cause, and wish you a happy and productive International Women’s Day.

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For information media • not an official record