Deputy Secretary-General: Statements
New York, 14 November 2007 - Deputy Secretary-General's remarks on the Expert Group Meeting on Measures to Accelerate the Improvement in the Status of Women in the United Nations System (delivered by Aparna Mehrotra, UN Focal Point for Women)Experts,
I regret I am not there with you personally, but please imagine my presence and accept my very warm welcome to you for your time, energy, interest and most important, advocacy dedicated to this very important cause.
Let me vicariously welcome the eminent guests who have joined us for this Expert Group Meeting on Measures to Accelerate the Improvement in the Status of Women in the United Nations system, and thank the Office of the Focal Point for Women for bringing us together.
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. 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 2080, and, even more alarmingly, at the P-5 level in 2120.
The truth is that if we were 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 Department 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 is my firm conviction that without temporary special measures, tradition, whatever its manifestation, cannot be overcome.
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.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
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 you 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.
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 to the Office of Human Resources Management 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.
Ladies and gentlemen,
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, multi-functional, 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 Expert Group Meeting. I look forward to learn about the outcome of today's deliberations.
Thank you very much.