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SG/SM/20616
8 March 2021

Secretary-General Highlights Action to Promote, Empower Women at United Nations, in Virtual Dialogue with Group of Friends of Gender Parity

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ open remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the virtual dialogue with the Group of Friends of Gender Parity, held today:

Happy International Women’s Day!

Let me thank the Ambassadors Sheikha Alya Ahmed bin Saif al-Thani and Valentine Rugwabiza and the Missions of Qatar and Rwanda for your leadership and commitment to advancing gender parity.

International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate what has been achieved towards realizing women’s rights; and to mobilize around overcoming the remaining challenges.

Overall, we in the United Nations are on a positive trajectory towards gender parity.  Two decades after the General Assembly’s first deadline, we are finally making progress across the entire United Nations system.  We achieved the goal of 50-50 gender parity amongst my senior leadership, two years ahead of my commitment.  In the Secretariat, the proportion of women in the Professional categories and above has increased to over 41 per cent from 37 per cent in 2017 — a steady annual increase.

This shows that our strategy works.  We need to recognize and celebrate progress when we see it.  We also need to recognize the roadblocks and challenges we still face  Progress is particularly difficult at the field level, where it is slow, fragile and uneven.

In the Secretariat’s field operations, the gender balance is 31 per cent women and 69 per cent men.  In some missions, women represent just one quarter of international staff.  This affects our credibility, outreach and effectiveness with the people we serve.  We need to increase and strengthen our efforts to inspire and attract more women to field positions.  We must create working and living conditions at our missions that are acceptable to all staff.

A legacy of policies and institutional biases that favour men can only be undone with concrete action, resources and political will.  The Field-Specific Enabling Environment Guidelines developed by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) can be an important tool to help transform our organizational culture.

For my part, I have taken several steps in the past year to put us on track.   We have updated Temporary Special Measures that will require a female candidate to be selected if she is equally qualified or superior to male candidates.  Such special measures have existed for more than 20 years, but the new policy creates greater accountability around recruitment.  My office is closely monitoring implementation.

I have also asked all United Nations entities to share information on their progress towards gender parity and their plans for the next two years.  We are taking steps to identify qualified women candidates to replace many of the 3,000 international staff who are retiring in the next eight years, the majority of whom are men.  This includes measures to develop staff and build internal talent pipelines.

The United Nations Working Group on Emergency Measures for gender parity in the field is continuing to advise me on how we can improve our work in this area.  They are now developing additional measures to improve the recruitment and retention of women.  I am determined that we pursue the mutually reinforcing goals of gender parity and equitable geographical diversity in a complementary and comprehensive way.

Both these strategies are helping us to achieve our overriding aims:  increasing our effectiveness and productivity; bringing new perspectives and experience to the table; unlocking the expertise of all our staff; and making the most of our resources.

The diversity and complexity of our mandates must be reflected by a geographically balanced, gender-balanced, international workforce.  The easiest route to achieving both gender parity and equitable geographical diversity is to recruit and promote women from a wider geographical base, including from un- and underrepresented countries.

I call on Member States to contribute to this effort by supporting women candidates at the national level, and to work with us to identify and attract women from all backgrounds to work at the United Nations.

For the past year, we have been dealing with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on all our work, including our efforts on gender parity.  Women, and particularly mothers, have been particularly affected by the move towards working from home.  The reprioritization of our work has also had a negative impact on some of our gender parity efforts.

But, the pandemic cannot be used as an excuse to put gender parity efforts on hold.  Gender parity is a necessity, not an add-on extra.  A global pandemic makes it more important than ever.

At this point, we need to make a strong commitment and a conscious effort to make up any lost ground.  We need to use the current crisis to dismantle gender stereotypes and change our organizational culture.  Gender parity must be taken into account in all our plans for our future workforce and working practices.

Gender equality is a question of power.  We live in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture and male-dominated power structures.  This has inevitably affected the institutional culture of the United Nations, and of diplomacy as a whole.

Achieving gender parity will continue to be a priority for me throughout and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.  But, I need your support, because some of our changes are in your hands.  I hope that with your help, we will be able to achieve progress with the International Civil Service Commission to strengthen our efforts across the board, from parental leave to the classification of duty stations.

Achieving gender parity is a collective endeavour.  Whether it is through your role as a group of friends, as individual Member States on executive boards, in the Fifth Committee or by exercising your advocacy with the International Civil Service Commission, I urge you to maintain and step up your efforts.

Please continue to demonstrate your commitment through the composition of your own delegations and panels, and by putting forward women candidates for senior positions.  I count on your support to help us make progress further and faster.  And please continue to call on the entire United Nations system to make gender parity a reality, during and after the pandemic.  I look forward to a fruitful conversation.

For information media. Not an official record.