UN Headquarters

27 June 2018

Remarks at the launch of "HERstory: Celebrating Women Leaders in the United Nations"

António Guterres

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

Welcome and thank you for being here to celebrate and pay tribute to the role of women in all aspects of the work of the United Nations.

I thank the Missions of Colombia and Qatar, and to Ambassadors Ms. María Emma Mejía and Ms. Alya Ahmed bin Saif Al-Thani, for this initiative, and for their work on behalf of women’s empowerment and gender equality at the United Nations and beyond.

Over the seven decades since the United Nations was created, we have seen enormous progress for women’s rights. Just six of the 278 delegates at the Founding Conference in San Francisco in 1945 were women. That could not happen today.

But that progress, both in the world at large and at the United Nations, is far from enough. It has stood still at some points in the past 70 years. It has been patchy and uneven. And it has even been reversed in some important areas. 

I meet delegations almost every week that don’t include a single woman.

It has taken a concerted push to ensure that even in our own building, we don’t hold events with all-male panels – or “manels”, as they are known. 

Since the start of last year, I have taken steps in areas of my own responsibility to ensure gender parity and greater representation of women. Today the United Nations Senior Management Group is 24 women and 21 men. That is rigorous parity. As far as Resident Coordinators are concerned, and they are as you know, the leaders of the UN in different countries of the world, we have exactly 50.4 per cent of women and  49.6 per cent of men.

I hope my gender parity strategy will make a significant difference at all levels in the coming years.

But these measures are just one part of the solution.

As I have said before, we live in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture, and that is still true in the United Nations. Men have been in charge for millennia. Changing attitudes is one of the most important and difficult challenges.

This is where projects like HERstory come in.

The history we learn at school, that is celebrated in public monuments and events, tends to be a very partial history. It tends to be the history of men.

Raising awareness of women’s contributions is an essential part of correcting the imbalance in our culture that has historically undervalued women’s contributions and women’s work.

The women featured in this exhibit were pioneers and trailblazers; the first to break through in their field.

From the first woman to serve at the rank of Under-Secretary-General, Lucille M. Mair, to the first woman to head a United Nations peacekeeping operation, Margaret Anstee, they have fascinating and inspiring stories.They demonstrate clearly that a woman is often the best person for the job. I say 50 per cent of the times.

Everyone working at the United Nations today owes them a debt for their service.

This is not simply about the fight for gender equality.  From peace and security to development to human rights, greater inclusion is the key to our success – bringing new perspectives, different leadership styles, greater innovation and ultimately a more effective organization.

I urge all Member States to become champions of this agenda, not only in their speeches to the Security Council and the General Assembly, but in their delegations, their nominees for senior posts and their contributions to peacekeeping operations.

We need more women in all areas of our work if we are to meet the challenges we currently face. And we need greater efforts to recognize the contributions that women make.

That history at the United Nations is not complete. Let us join together to write the final chapter. Thank you.