Formal meeting of the CEDAW Committee in connection with its preparation for a general recommendation on Article IV of the Convention

Statement of Ms. Angela King

Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women

16 January 2001

Madame Chairperson

Colleagues and Friends

As you are aware part of my portfolio as Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women to the Secretary-General involves the development of strategies and polices to improve the number, level and conditions of women in the Secretariat and the United Nations system.

Although the United Nations Organization cannot claim to be a State party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, we thought it might be useful to share the work on special measures which has been going on within the Secretariat.

Over the years largely as a result of the persistence of the Commission for the Status of Women, the decision of the four World Conferences on Women and the special session, as well as Article IV of the CEDAW Convention, there has been a focus in the United Nations and its agencies on achieving equal opportunities for women in the Secretariat with set targets. Starting in the late 1980s, the Secretary-General has instituted a number of special measures governing the recruitment, promotion and placement of women in the Secretariat. In so doing he supported the measures with the necessary political will. The aim of the special measures is to ensure that women are given the fullest consideration in the selection process for vacant posts and in so doing, address the existing gender imbalance in the Secretariat.

These measures were originally recommended by the High-level Steering Committee for the Improvement of the Status of Women which was established in April 1986 to advise the Secretary-General on policies and measures for the achievement of gender equality in the Organization. The most recent measures are contained in an Administrative Instruction which was last updated in 1999 (ST/A1/1999/9).

There are three principal special measures:

The first special measure concerns the eligibility of certain categories of external women candidates to apply for internally circulated P-4 vacancies. This measure applies only to posts at the P-4 level as P-2 posts are filled exclusively through competitive examinations and P-3 posts are normally filled internally either through placement or promotion, or externally, through the National Competitive Examination roster. As posts at the P-5 level and above are advertised both externally and internally, the measure is not necessary as external women including women from the United Nations system can apply for these positions.

Under this special measure, women holding current appointments with UN programmes or specialized agencies may apply for internal Secretariat P-4 vacancies provided they have worked in these organizations for a period of at least one year over the two years preceding their application. Similarly, women holding other than "regular" UN Secretariat appointments - for example, UN project staff or temporary staff recruited to replace staff on mission or on leave without pay - may apply for internal P-4 vacancies provided they are at the P-3 level, hold a current appointment, and have at least one year’s service with the Organization over the two years preceding their application.

The aim of this measure is expand the pool of qualified women candidates. While women meeting the criteria under this measure may apply for internal P-4 vacancies which men cannot, it is important to note that they are still external candidates and subject to the requirements of equitable geographical distribution, academic and other standards which govern the UN Secretariat appointments system in accordance with Article 101 of the Charter of the United Nations.

The second special measure concerns the issue of seniority in grade. In the Secretariat, unlike in some other UN system organizations, staff members are expected to serve a minimum time in grade before being considered eligible to apply for higher-level positions. For example, a staff member at the P-3 level is normally expected to serve 3 years at that level before being considered for promotion to the P-4 level. Under this special measure, a woman’s cumulative seniority is taken into account. Cumulative seniority is the average of the time spent by a woman staff member in her current grade and in her immediately preceding grade. For example, a women who has spent only 1 year at the P-3 level will be considered eligible to apply for P-4 posts if she had served 5 years at the P-2 level as her cumulative seniority will be 3 years.

In 1999, this measure was extended to apply not only to staff in the Professional category but also to staff members in other categories where women are under-represented, such as the Security and the Trades and Crafts categories. I am pleased to report that this morning the first woman Security Officer to have benefited from this measure, was recommended by the Appointment and Promotion Panel for promotion to the level of Security Lieutenant. In her case she had only 1 and 1/2 years experience in her current grade, but had accumulated 14 years of experience in her preceding grade.

The aim of this special measure, again, is to expand the pool of qualified women candidates and to improve the grade distribution of women in the Secretariat. The measure also takes into account the fact that women have historically served longer periods in grade than men and have not enjoyed a comparable rate of promotion.

The third special measure concerns the criterion governing the selection of women candidates for vacant posts. Under this measure, when there are one or more women candidates who meet the requirements of a vacant post and their qualifications and experience are judged "substantially equal or superior" to competing male candidates, one of the women candidates should be selected. If the programme manager recommends a male candidate, he or she is expected to document how the qualifications and experience of the recommended candidate are "clearly superior" to the leading woman candidate, when compared to the "core" requirements of the job.

This measure also applies to the selection of women candidates for temporary assignments at a higher level.

This special measure was the subject of a UN Administrative Tribunal judgement in 1996. In that judgement, the Tribunal ruled that this affirmative action measure established a right to preferential treatment for women whose qualifications were substantially equal to the qualifications of competing male candidates (Judgement No. 765, Anderson-Bieler). A judgement also supported the Secretary-General's right to take special measures until parity between women and men is reached.

Other special measures relate to the requirements of equitable geographical distribution and to the operation of the special measures during periods of retrenchment or organizational downsizing. With respect to geographical distribution, in cases where a recommendation is made to recruit a candidate from an over-represented Member State, such exceptional cases are to be considered more favorably by the Appointment and Promotion bodies when the recommended candidate is a woman. Similarly, if a recruitment freeze is imposed due to downsizing of the Organization, exceptions to the freeze should be considered more favorably if the recommended candidate is a woman.

The Office of the Special Adviser, which includes the Office of the Focal Point for Women in the Secretariat, monitors the status of women in the Organization and cooperates closely with the Office of Human Resources Management in the development of policies and measures for the achievement of gender equality. In this capacity, the Focal Point sits on the Appointment and Promotion Bodies as an ex officio member to advise on the application of the special measures and to ensure that women candidates are given the fullest consideration. The Focal Point is assisted by a network of departmental focal points across all duty stations who perform the same function earlier in the process of candidate selection as members of the Departmental Panels which review programme managers’ recommendations prior to their submission to the Appointment and Promotion bodies. The Secretariat would welcome any suggestions for further strengthening that provision.

Madame Chairperson, I hope that this information indicates one additional very important policy area affecting women in decision making which has been deeply influenced by Article 4.