Secretary-General, at Global Summit of Women, Says His Challenge Is Breaking ‘Glass Ceiling’ in United Nations Middle Management

9 May 2011

Secretary-General, at Global Summit of Women, Says His Challenge Is Breaking ‘Glass Ceiling’ in United Nations Middle Management

9 May 2011
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Secretary-General, at Global Summit of Women, Says His Challenge Is Breaking


‘Glass Ceiling’ in United Nations Middle Management


Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at the Global Summit of Women, in Istanbul on 7 May:

It is a great honour and privilege for me to stand before such distinguished women leaders of the world and receive this award.  Again, I thank you very much, and I am humbled.

I receive this award not for myself.  But I am receiving this award for your recognition of the United Nations work.  And again, I receive this award with a humble mind that you are asking me to do more for gender equality and gender empowerment.

Standing before you, I have been thinking to myself if I would always be as popular as today.  I would like to stop my clock today so that this moment will last forever.  As Secretary-General, it’s not that I am always happy; it’s not that I am always as popular as today, but I am ready to receive all constructive criticism or suggestions and good ideas, if you have them.

In terms of women’s empowerment and gender equality, I know that there are still many, many more things to do, many more miles to travel, but this award makes me much more motivated and committed to work together with you when we will be able to say that this world is fair and harmonious and balanced in terms of gender balance.

Again, I am very much honoured to be among First Ladies and Government Ministers, corporate executives and entrepreneurs, civil society activists and many others.  You are from all different walks of life, but you share the same commitment to advancing the global common good.

I am honoured to receive your organization’s annual award.  As is clear from the slide show we just saw, you are also paying tribute to the United Nations, and representing the United Nations, again I make myself fully committed to work with you.

I am keenly aware that I am the first man to receive this award in 21 years.  You should recognize there has not been gender equality when it comes to the prize!  So let’s make some balance in awards.  It should not be given always to women.  That is why I have created the Men Leaders’ Network, because I believe that unless you change mentality and behaviour of men it will be very difficult to change this situation.  So, beginning from me as the first man to receive this, I sincerely hope that there will be many more men who will receive this award.

With our tireless efforts, the United Nations has done a tremendous amount — from far-reaching treaties to the landmark Beijing Conference to the Millennium Development Goals.  These investments pay dividends for all.

During my tenure, we have focused on health, especially through a global strategy for women’s and children’s health to save at least 16 million lives by the year 2015.  For too many women, access to health care is unavailable even though it is critical for building stable, peaceful and productive societies.

We have also launched a campaign against the horrific violence faced by so many women and girls in conflict areas — from domestic abuse to sexual exploitation in armed conflict — violence from which no country is immune.  I saw the consequences of this violence first-hand two years ago when I visited the HEAL Africa hospital.

I was there with my wife.  I was so saddened.  I was so angry about what I have seen for myself, by what I have heard from those victims, women and girls; young girls.  I left the region, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), determined to do more — to help the victims, to end impunity for perpetrators, to prevent such violence in the first place.  I met President [Joseph] Kabila of DRC and I told him, if you do not rectify this situation, I will make you accountable.  You must be responsible for all these crimes happening in your country.

I believe we have made some progress.  We now have a dynamic Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Armed conflict.  I have also established, as I said, a Network of Men Leaders.  Men, I believe, have a key role to play in overcoming these stereotypes, changing mindsets and proving positive role models.  After all, men are also devastated by violence perpetrated against the women they care deeply about.

Despite important gains in women’s advancement and empowerment, in too many societies women remain, I am sorry to say so, women remain second-class citizens, unfortunately.  Therefore, I see three areas where we can rectify this situation.

First, helping the world’s poorest women and girls.  Your Summit takes place on the eve of the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries.  This meeting is once in 10 years.  This is the first major United Nations conference in this decade.  We have to come out with a very ambitious workable plan of action, out of this conference.  I know that there is a very good plan of action regarding women’s empowerment and gender equality.  Let me be clear: helping the least developed countries to help themselves is not a matter of charity.  It is a great opportunity.

Some of the least developed countries’ economies are among the fastest growing in the world.  By helping these next-wave economies increase their productive capacities, we can create tangible opportunities for businesses across a spectrum of industries, sectors and issues.  By helping them fulfil their potential, we can drive sustainable development for all.

The gender dimension is crucial.  Women in the least developed countries, especially farmers, keep their societies and economies going.  But they need greater access to land, credit and markets.  Empowering them will help reduce poverty, create wealth and achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  I am pleased to see a dedicated section on gender equality and women’s empowerment in the draft programme of action.  We need to make sure that in implementing it, gender equality and women’s empowerment are addressed in all priority areas.

My second point concerns the gender gap in women’s political participation.  More women, in more countries, are taking their rightful seat in parliament.  Yet fewer than 10 per cent of countries have female Heads of State or Government.  And fewer than 30 countries have reached the target of 30 per cent in their respective parliaments.  This challenge extends from parliamentarians to peace processes.  Women and women’s groups are at the negotiating table far more than previously.  But the gaps remain significant: too few women participate in peacemaking and peacebuilding.

And let me stress again, participation alone is not enough.  It is not sufficient for women to sit at the peace table without being heard.  It is not enough for women to be included in police forces or peacekeeping missions if they cannot influence decision-making.  That is why I have been trying to appoint as many as possible in decision-making positions in the United Nations, and I decided to lead by example.  You will see many senior women, as you have seen in the video.

At least 40 per cent I have increased.  By 40 per cent.  It has been quite difficult to increase within just three, four years.  When I wanted to appoint, when some position was vacant, normally all the men’s names came to me for a decision.  At the beginning, I signed.  Then later I have been asking them, “isn’t there any women candidate?”  These were all men who had been sitting in the selection process.  “We have not found any woman who is capable, who is qualified,” they said.  Then I said “why don’t you try to find some woman candidate?”  “There is no woman,” they said.  Because the selection consisted of all men, so they always recommended men.  So I said, from now on, just put at least one woman’s name.  I need three people, three names, but among three names, minimum one name of a woman.  “There’s nobody,” they said.  “How many women candidates were there?” I asked.  There were about 10, 15.  Well, then, who was the best candidate among those who were not successful?  Then I said, “I want the best person among the unsuccessful women candidates.”  So I chose her.  By doing that, people now understand they have to submit at least one woman’s name.  By doing that, I was able to increase in such a very short period of time.  Otherwise, it would not have been possible.

This brings me to my third point, closing the gender gap in the business world.  I know that here we have many business executives, women executives.  Even where women are prominent in politics, they are still severely underrepresented when it comes to the business world.  I am pleased to see such a strong representation of women business executives here.   But I am sure you are all aware that this is the exception, not the rule of today in the world.

I hope you are all familiar with the United Nations Global Compact — the world’s largest corporate social responsibility initiative.  The Compact works across a spectrum of issues — human rights, the environment, labour conditions and anti-corruption.  I thank those of you who are members, and I urge you to join Global Compact Women’s Network if you have not done so yet.

Last year we launched the Women’s Empowerment Principles.  More than 180 companies have signed on, and I urge your support.  A recent study showed that Fortune 500 companies with the highest number of women on the governing boards were 53 per cent more profitable than those with the fewest number in the governing board.  The message is clear: investing in women is good for the bottom line.  Investing in women is not just the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do.

You have all heard of the glass ceiling — the invisible barrier that stops women’s advancement.  It’s not seen; it’s invisible, in every organization in society.  A professor from Botswana told a UN panel last month that at times it seems as if this is more than a glass ceiling; this is an iron ceiling.

I am working hard to break down barriers for the advancement of women, by tearing down this glass ceiling at the United Nations, as I said.  Now our top humanitarian official and our top development official, our head of management, our chief internal oversight official, our top doctor, top lawyer and even our top cop; they are all women now in the United Nations.

And I am still recruiting more.  My challenge now is to see the same kind of representation of women throughout middle management.  You know very well this distinguished global leadership of Michelle Bachelet, who was appointed as first Executive Director of this UN Women.  It took 65 years for the United Nations to establish this UN Women.  It took four years for me.  I have been fighting with the Member States to establish this one.  Finally, I made it.  It was a very difficult battle.

There is a strong perception, very strong perception, that has never been evidenced that when it comes to the military or peacekeeping, people believe this is a man’s job.  So in 65 years’ history there had been just two or three women who have been the leader of UN peacekeeping operations.  Now I have appointed five, and there are nine more women deputies who are now waiting to be recruited to reach that job.  They are doing an excellent job.  They are managing 8,000, 10,000 soldiers in the field.  So you should be proud that if we cultivate the potential of women they can be even better than men.

Earlier this year, at the official launch of UN Women, the very famous actress Geena Davis said: “If girls can see it, they can be it.”  Our job is to give girls and young women the inspiration and the tools to be what we know they can be.

In Liberia, we sent an all-female police unit.  There was an immediate practical benefit — women felt safer and they felt more empowered to report the abuse they were enduring.  But there was another side effect, unanticipated consequence.  Liberian women queued up to join their own police force.  Because they saw it, they knew that they could be it.

Questions of gender equality are also on display in the Middle East and North Africa.  It is no coincidence that this transformation sweeping that region in the Arab world began in Tunisia, which was among the first Arab countries to grant women the right to vote, and where women have made important gains in the workplace and parliament.  These women can inspire a generation of girls to make their own mark in the future.

Of course, there is still a great distance still to travel, there and elsewhere.  On International Women’s Day, women and girls marching to Tahrir Square in Cairo faced insults and violence from men.  But we have long memories.  We know that women around the world have suffered abuse in the struggle for equality.  And they won.  They won the right to their safety and their future.  They won the right to vote, to hold office and to lead their countries.

You must have seen all that’s been going on in the Arab world.  And I have been talking to the leaders of the Arab world.  Whenever I was speaking — maybe any UN staff may check my record of conversation — I have always been saying please listen to the genuine aspirations of your people, and try to engage in inclusive dialogue.  Not only these opposition politicians, talk with women, talk with young people, talk with civil society leaders.  So that dialogue should be inclusive.  I never failed to mention women in the Arab world, because I know that in the Arab world women must be emancipated, and they must be given equal rights, if not more.

Women who have fought for gender equality know that the battle does not end there.  The battle does not end until there is no discrimination, against any human being, on any grounds.  The battle does not end until all people can enjoy a life of dignity.  I am counting on you, women leaders from around the world and from all walks of life, to work with me to realize this goal.  To end these barriers.  To have more women empowered in all walks of our life.  Until then, I think we have to work together.  I am asking world leaders, and I am asking business leaders, and I am asking women leaders to work together to achieve that goal where everybody, men and women, without any fear of violence, without any fear of discrimination, can work in harmony and in dignity as a human being.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.