UN Headquarters

15 March 2022

Secretary-General's opening remarks to the Group of Friends on Gender Parity

António Guterres

Excellencies, Friends,

I am pleased to join you today.

I thank H.E. Ms. Mariam bint Ali bin Nasser Al-Misnad, Minister of Social Development and the Family of the State of Qatar, and H.E. Prof. Jeannette Bayisenge, Minister of Gender and Family Promotion of Rwanda, for their support and commitment to advancing gender parity.

The Group of Friends has been an important and strong partner to the Organization in our journey towards gender parity.

Each year, we meet around International Women’s Day and the Commission on the Status of Women to restate our commitment to women’s rights and gender equality.

Today, I am proud to report that we are on a positive trajectory towards achieving gender parity across the United Nations system.

We achieved gender parity among my senior leadership two years ahead of my goal. We are talking about 190 senior leaders.

In the Secretariat, the proportion of women in the professional categories and above has increased to over 42 per cent from 37 per cent in 2017 – a steady annual increase.

Since 2019, we have seen significant progress in hard-to-shift mid-management levels; we have gone from 37 percent in 2019 to 42 percent in 2021 at the P-5 level, and from 36 percent to 43 percent at D1 level.  Mid-management is still our main priority in this regard to get to parity as quickly as possible.

This was achieved while the Organization was grappling with a crippling financial crisis, necessitating a freeze on regular budget recruitment. 

At the current rate of progress, the Secretariat is forecasted to reach the parity range in the second quarter of 2027, before the target date of 2028 set out in the Gender Parity Strategy.  

The strategy is working.  But we are not there yet.

While we have made steady progress at headquarter locations, our progress in the field has been slower and uneven.  

In peace operations, 32 percent of civilian personnel are women and 68 percent are men.  This is a slight improvement from 2017 when women accounted for 28 percent of all civilian personnel in field missions.  

But, in some missions, women represent just one quarter of our international staff component. It is in the interest of the Organization to change these numbers which requires a number of very important changes in our own rules and Member States will be very important in this regard. 

Our peace operations, as well as those they serve, will benefit from the perspectives and experience that our female personnel bring.

To do this we need to increase and strengthen our efforts to inspire and attract more women to field positions.

That means to create a working culture and living conditions in our missions that are supportive of all staff.

A legacy of policies and institutional biases that hinder women’s equal participation can only be undone with concrete action, dedicated resources and political will. 

The Field-specific Enabling Environment Guidelines developed by UN Women can be an important tool to help transform our organizational culture.

The system-wide Gender Focal Points also play a crucial role in implementing these Guidelines in each entity, department, office and units across the board, together with their leadership.

For my part, I have taken several steps to put us on track.

First, to increase the percentage of women in our leadership in the field, I launched the Global Call for nominations for Special Representatives in 2017. 

To date, we have received over 700 suitable nominations from Member States, organizations and individuals. Of these, 40 percent were women – of which nearly half were women from the Global South.  

I have appointed 25 Heads or Deputy Heads of Mission from the roster of Global Call nominees, of whom 16 were female.

Looking ahead, your nominations of women leaders to the Global Call will be critical to help us build a strong, more gender-balanced pipeline of leaders in field operations.

Our efforts are working. 

Since 2006, when only one woman served as Head of a UN field mission, considerable progress in terms of gender representation has been made.

For the first time in the history of the United Nations, we reached parity at the level of Heads and Deputy Heads of peace operations in 2021. 

The strategy we launched in 2018 to advance parity in our uniformed personnel is also yielding results.
Between 2018 and 2021, the number of female military staff officers and experts increased from 8 to 20 percent, and female police personnel from 20 to 30 percent.

Second, to improve parity at all levels across the Organization, we updated the Temporary Special Measures to achieve gender parity and improved their monitoring.

The measures require that managers select a female candidate if she is equally or better qualified than a male candidate, for a post at a level at which the entity is beneath parity.

While these temporary special measures have existed for more than 20 years, they have not been implemented consistently throughout the Organization.  And senior managers have not been traditionally held accountable for their implementation. 

Now, senior managers are accountable for their decisions. And my office is closely monitoring implementation.

I have also asked all United Nations entities to share information on their plans for, and progress towards, gender parity. 

UN Women and UNDP have developed a system-wide dashboard on gender parity that monitors data from nearly 40 UN entities. I invite you to consult it.    

Third, we are taking steps to identify qualified women candidates to replace many of the almost 4,000 international staff who are retiring in the next nine years, the majority of whom are men.

This includes measures to develop staff and build internal talent pipelines.

I am mindful of the concerns expressed by some Member States that our focus on gender parity should not come at the expense of increasing equitable geographical representation. 

I can assure you that we are pursuing these two goals in a complementary and comprehensive way.

I am committed to ensuring that our workforce reflects the international character of the Organization. 

Our ability to implement our diverse and complex mandates will be significantly strengthened if our workforce is gender-balanced and recruited from a wider geographical base, including from unrepresented and under-represented countries.

For some of the most needed changes, we need your help.

You can demonstrate this by supporting female candidates at the national level, and working with us to identify and attract women from all backgrounds, including uniformed personnel, to work at the United Nations.

You can also support our efforts through your participation in inter-governmental bodies. 

I hope that, with your help, we will be able to achieve progress with the International Civil Service Commission to make our conditions of service fairer and gender sensitive. 

These measures range from parental leave to the classification of duty stations, to facilitate creating the best conditions for attracting and keeping our best women.

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 increase 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.

Achieving gender parity at the United Nations is a collective endeavour.

Ultimately, gender equality is a question of power.

We still live in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture and male-dominated power structures.

These structures allow men’s power to dominate in different degrees in cultures around the world.

All of the challenges facing our world today — from an unequal recovery from COVID-19, to climate change, to intergenerational inequality, poverty and violence, to the tragic lack of peace in our world — are largely the result of a deeply rooted patriarchy. Look at the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and you will notice another case.

The patriarchy is not easily defeated.

It continues to push back against the rights of women and girls in all walks of life, in every region of the world.

We must push back against this pushback.

Not only as a matter of the basic human rights that every woman and girl has.

But as the only pathway to the peaceful, equal, sustainable and prosperous world we all want to build.

That’s why gender parity is an absolute necessity, not an add-on extra.

This is a cornerstone of the promise we made in Beijing over 27 years ago, and reiterated in the Sustainable Development Goals, to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

We still have a long way to go if we want to achieve that goal by 2030.

Under COVID-19, women have lost jobs; had their working hours reduced; and have taken on more responsibility for care and domestic work.

Women and girls are far less likely than men and boys to receive social protection or income support related to the pandemic. This is further widening inequalities; driving poverty and violence against women and girls; and rolling back progress on women’s employment, health and education. 

These declines are systemic, and global. The World Economic Forum’s latest report found that it will now take 135.6 years to close the gender gap worldwide – an increase of 35 years since the pandemic.
That is why I have placed women and girls at the centre of my proposals in my report on Our Common Agenda.

Gender equality and women’s rights are essential to a renewed social contract anchored in human rights; a New Agenda for Peace; and to better measure and value what matters, including the care economy.
My report also proposes five transformative actions on gender equality: repealing all gender-discriminatory laws; promoting gender parity in every sector and at all levels of decision-making; facilitating women’s economic inclusion; ensuring that younger women are included and their voices heard; and for each country to implement an emergency response plan to prevent and end gender-based violence. These transformative actions have the potential to reverse the trend on gender equality.

The United Nations will play its part in all these efforts, and in walking the talk on gender parity.

If we work together, I am confident we can build the United Nations the world needs right now.

I count on your support so we can progress further and faster, and I am looking forward to a fruitful conversation.

Thank you.