Letter from the Focal Point for Women in the Secretariat
With the 21st century at our doorstep, I want to share with you some of my thoughts and
optimism about the future of women in the United Nations. It was in 1974 when, as a
delegate of Iran to the Third Committee, I first came upon the issue of the status of
women in the Secretariat. Little did I know at that time that I would one day become the
Focal Point for Women in the Secretariat. I must confess that we have come a long way
since those days, when we--the female delegates (let alone the female ambassadors)--were
few and far between. At the Mexico Conference, women delegates were pushed aside whenever
issues of a political nature were discussed, and the men would take over. We have indeed
come a long way and one has only to look at the Beijing Conference to see just how far! In
the Secretariat too there has been movement. The statistics attest to this, even though
that movement has sometimes been slow. In 1971, the first year when gender distribution of
staff in the Professional and higher categories was reported for the first time to the
General Assembly, there were 16.9 per cent Professional women in posts subject to
geographical distribution. At the decision-making level (USG/ASG/D-2 and D-1) there were 2
per cent women. As of November 1999, we report 38.6 per cent Professional women in posts
subject to geographical distribution and 29.7 per cent at the decision-making level.
The staff of Network wishes all of you the very best for 2000.
In your interest . . .
A/54/405 of 27 September 1999 "Report of the Secretary-General on the improvement of the status of women in the Secretariat". Below find some of the main highlights of the report:
A/54/139 of 17 December 1999 Resolution on the improvement of the status of women. Here
are some highlights:
ST/SGB/1999/15 of 13 October 1999 "Organization Competencies for the Future".
The Secretary-General's bulletin states that to create a new culture and to build a
human resources capacity for the future it is necessary to define organizational core
competencies--the combination of skills, attributes and behaviours which are essential for
all staff--as well as additional managerial competencies required by all those who manage
others. Through a participatory process and taking into account the diversity of functions
in the Organization, as well as the multicultural population of our staff and the range of
geographical locations, a competency model was developed with three core values, eight
core competencies and six managerial competencies, as follows:
The bulletin further states that staff development programmes will be aligned with the
Mr. Theo-Ben Gurirab, Foreign Minister of Namibia, upon accepting his presidency of the 54th session of the General Assembly on 14 September 1999, mentioned gender equality as one of the future challenges. "Gender equality pertains to the entire society. It affects power relationships, decision-making and governance as well as inter-State relations. Moreover, these concerns include the family, war, peace, development, disarmament, science and technology, human rights and other public policy priorities that form intrinsic parts of the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action. Governments should adopt and implement national gender policies without delay and report to the General Assembly."
The International Court of Justice elected five judges on 3 November 1999. Among the four re-elected is Ms. Rosalyn Higgins of the United Kingdom who remains the only woman sitting in the Court out of its 15 members.
Women justice ministers from more than 15 countries convened at UN Headquarters on 16
November 1999. The meeting, which, for the first time, brought together women justice
ministers, discussed the ministers' roles and responsibilities, public confidence in the
justice system and the impact of international events on domestic policy.
Informal meeting of the ACC Inter-agency Committee on Women and Gender Equality
(IACWGE), 18 November 1999, United Nations Secretariat, NY, in preparation for the
Committee's fifth session, 23 to 25 February 2000.
UNICEF is the Committee's task manager for preparing a database of gender training materials available in the UN system. The project also includes a review of these materials. Together with other resources currently under preparation by the Committee's task managers, such as the good practices database (task manager: UNDP and UNIFEM), the gender focal point study (task manager: UNFPA) and the work on gender mainstreaming in budgets (task manager: OSAGI/DAW), the database will be available on www.un.org/womenwatch;
The Special Adviser on Gender Issues is compiling a list of high-level women who could
serve as Special Representatives of the Secretary-General or Envoys. Members were invited
to provide names and resumes.
The revised special measures for the achievement of gender equality (ST/AI/1999/9 of 21 September 1999)
The revised measures, which entered into force 1 October 1999, consolidate and clarify the previous instruction ST/AI/412 of 5 January 1996. Some of the major changes are highlighted below:
We ask that you please familiarize yourself with ST/AI/1999/9, discuss it with your
colleagues and disseminate it as widely as possible. Should you have any questions, do not
hesitate to e-mail us. Please find the full text of the ST/AI/1999/9 in the DAW Web site
Ms. Mariam Al-Awahdi (D-2) of Kuwait, who took office as Deputy Executive Secretary of
ESCWA on 1 October 1999.
Our congratulations and good wishes also go to:
H.E. Ms. June Yvonne Clarke, who was accredited to the United Nations as Permanent
Representative of Barbados on 7 September 1999. As of 18 November 1999, Australia,
Barbados, the Dominican Republic, Finland, Guinea, Jamaica, Liberia, Liechtenstein and
Turkmenistan have women Permanent Representatives serving in New York.
Ute Kollies-Cummings, Associate Liaison Officer
Participants to the first "Gender Orientation Session" organized by OCHA in Geneva, held on 1 October 1999, might have asked themselves exactly that question, hoping for an answer within the session. The audience consisted of about 50 participants from 20 different agencies, international organizations and NGOs.
OCHA's Director a.i., Mr. Gerhard Putman-Cramer, opened the session by reminding the participants that a number of important steps had already been taken at the Inter-Agency Standing Committee--Working Group (IASC-WG) level as well as in OCHA, as follows:
He committed OCHA's senior management to continuous support for initiatives in gender mainstreaming and expressed his personal interest in the follow-up. IASC members as well as OCHA needed to go beyond awareness-raising and sensitization and start a process of capacity-building so that existing tools and instruments could be applied, developments with respect to gender mainstreaming monitored and its impact assessed.
The orientation session aimed at raising awareness on gender-mainstreaming issues, disseminating relevant information, initiating a capacity-building process leading to better mainstreaming interventions and--last but not least--supplying practical tools for gender analysis. The following topics were covered in the session:
Some of the suggestions and needs that came out of the session included country studies on gender and humanitarian assistance, documented best practices, higher participation of men and sessions for field staff.
A questionnaire was sent to all participants of the Gender Orientation Session. The
overall positive feedback from participants has encouraged OCHA to continue organizing
sessions on particular areas of interest. The electronic versions of the presentations can
be received from firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recent statistics from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
show 42.6 per cent women at the Professional level. In Geneva, women account for 39.0 per
cent and in New York 46.9 per cent. Although there has been some overall improvement,
women remain under-represented at the senior level in OCHA. There are no women at the D-1
level and only 5 women at the P-5 level as of 12 August 1999. OCHA has, however, recently
appointed the first D-2 woman, Ms. Carolyn McAskie, as Deputy Emergency Relief
UNDP tackles a sexual harassment case
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) dismissed a senior official from its
office in Pakistan on 12 August 1999 after investigating 11 complaints of sexual
harassment against him by foreign and Pakistani women. The UNDP statement concluded that
the official's conduct "had created an intimidating, hostile and offensive work
environment and that it was unbecoming of an international civil servant and incompatible
with continued membership of the staff". After investigating the complaints, UNDP
sent a team to Islamabad in March, and in June it conducted a disciplinary hearing in New
York. The statement said that "UNDP will not tolerate a work environment in which
harassment and abuse of authority undermine staff morale and hamper efficient programme
Network had reported to you previously about PAMS, which is now in operation. This system has been created to provide an easy and effective means of submitting CVs for consideration by UN organizations and, in the future, by subscribing to international organizations and multinational corporations. This is a particularly useful tool for spouses of UN staff members seeking employment. PAMS can be found in the Intranet at http://pams.unsystem.org.
Terms of reference for the departmental focal points
OSAGI is pleased to report that the terms of reference for the departmental focal points for women in the Secretariat was issued on 20 December 1999, in the form of a Secretary-General's bulletin (SGB/1999/19). We ask you to familiarize yourself with this bulletin and to discuss its contents with your colleagues. Below please find the main highlights.
There shall be departmental focal points in each department/office/regional commission to discharge the following functions:
Selection of departmental focal points for women
The departmental focal points must be willing to undertake the functions outlined above
and cannot be involved in any matters in which there is a conflict of interest. Therefore,
staff representatives, staff of the Executive Office and those in the immediate office of
the head of the department or office shall not be eligible for selection;
The departmental focal points shall have access to all information necessary for the discharge of their functions, as required.
The present bulletin entered into force on 1 January 2000.
Discrimination in Staff Rules and Regulations--a piece of history
We have come a long way! Although progress in reaching gender equality continues at a
slow, albeit constant pace, many improvements have been achieved. In 1954, it was noted
that the Staff Rules and Regulations were biased against women staff members, because it
was stated that a married man automatically was entitled to a dependency allowance for his
wife and for his children while married women staff members were not entitled to the
children's allowance unless they were widowed, divorced or separated and had custody of
the children. A married woman was entitled to the same benefits as a married man only if
her husband was unemployed or dependent on her support for other reasons. It was not until
1975, that the revised Staff Rules and Regulations came into effect changing these rules
which were contrary to the principle of equal conditions of employment enunciated in
Article 8 of the Charter of the United Nations.
The General Assembly adopted on 6 October 1999 without a vote a resolution containing the Optional Protocol, which would enable victims of sex discrimination to submit complaints to the UN committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women against States parties to the Protocol. On 10 December 1999, the Optional Protocol was opened for signature. Twenty-three Member States signed. They are: Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Senegal, Slovenia and Sweden. In the afternoon, a panel opened by the Secretary-General discussed how the CEDAW Convention had worked through national legislation to advance the status of women worldwide.
The Medical Service in the UN Secretariat, through the good efforts of its Head Nurse,
Ms. Erna Croney, has founded the UN Breast Cancer Support Group. The Group is a
self-support-run group and holds monthly informal meetings to discuss topics such as
common experiences, advice on nutrition, how to deal with forms and medical insurance,
and, last but not least, how the illness has affected each member and their families. The
Group is assisted by Ms. Sona Enster, C.S.W., Director, Department of Social Work, who
runs a similar group at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York City. Should
you wish to get in contact with the Group, please e-mail Ms. Croney at email@example.com, or
you can call her at (212) 963-4070.
The American Secretary of State, Ms. Madeleine Albright, hosted a dinner for 10 female
foreign ministers attending the UN General Assembly, on 23 September 1999. This event was
part of her efforts to create a lobby for moving women's issues closer to the centre of
foreign affairs. The ministers discussed a letter that would be addressed to the
Secretary-General, asking him to put on the agenda the trafficking of human beings,
predominantly women and children.
Workshop on . . .
Ms. Angela E. V. King, the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, invited UN Professional women at the P-4 level and above for a mentoring seminar on 24 September 1999, at Headquarters. The main speaker, Ms. Jennifer Allyn, from the Catalyst organization, talked about what mentoring entails and about best practices in other organizations. Some 90 women from the Organization attended the workshop.
Ms. Allyn said that the goal of mentoring is to create an organization where people are
rewarded for nurturing and asking for help. However, sometimes there can be barriers to
mentoring, such as perceived sexual tension, exclusion from informal Networks and certain
stereotypes about women. Mentoring can take informal or formal forms, for instance:
options which include one-to-one mentoring, quads (2 mentors and 2 mentees) or
groups/circles. Mentors should be from a different department than the mentee and that one
should have a diverse group of mentors. Mentoring relationships can take time to develop
and, for them to be fully successful, the mentor needs to be rewarded for the work.
Prepared by the Information Solutions Group/Diversity Advisory Group of the World Bank
NB: The dictionary defines diversity as multiformity, variety or multiplicity. For
private-sector companies, diversity means that no person shall be denied employment
opportunities for reasons unrelated to ability.
UNDP men's group speaks out on gender equality
As Network reported previously, a gender mainstreaming workshop organized by UNDP in February 1999 gave rise to an informal discussion group on gender issues. The UNDP Men's Group on Gender Equality issued a statement--"Gender mainstreaming: a men's perspective"--expressing concern about gender disparities in the UN system and in the world. They held an open meeting on 15 September 1999 to deliver the men's perspective on gender issues.
The spokesman for the Group emphasized that their work is not a reaction to gender
mainstreaming. In fact, gender is about men and women and that promoting gender equality
requires the active participation of men, and that men need to be vocal about gender
issues. Rather, the Group's mission centers upon the work of UNDP and bringing gender
mainstreaming into sustainable development in all of their programmes, using a holistic
approach. It was felt that UNDP's work in the areas of poverty, good governance and
post-conflict reconstruction offers many entry points for men's participation in gender
The initial response to the Group's statement has been very encouraging. Other UN
agencies have approached the Group with inquiries and invitations. The Group keeps a
list-serve of currently 85 people as a discussion group, and they have launched a seminar
series in New York. A Web site will soon be available also. The Group is by no means
homogeneous in opinion and it is open to both men and women. To join the list-serve,
e-mail a request to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, e-mail email@example.com or
The Executive Director of the Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (ODCCP), Mr.
Pino Arlacchi, who reported, on 24 September 1999, to the Secretary-General and the
Special Adviser on Gender and Advancement of Women 1999, that ODCCP has recently recruited
ten women candidates, five of whom come from non-Western countries.
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