New York

06 March 2020

Secretary-General's remarks to Group of Friends on Gender Parity [as delivered]

I want to express my deep gratitude to our co-Chairs - Sheikha Alya Ahmed bin Saif Al-Thani and Ms. Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee for your very strong leadership and your dedication to enhancing gender parity and gender equality at the United Nations and beyond.

Our Organization must be at the forefront of the global movement for gender equality. It is one of the core values enshrined in the Charter, and it has never been more important and more urgent.
 
As we mark the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which set the goal of equal representation for women and men by the year of 2000 – we are a bit late - we are already 20 years behind schedule indeed.
 
The right of women to be equally rewarded for their contribution to institutions, society and economic development is exactly that, their right. We must catch up and make up for lost time.
 
That is why achieving gender parity has been a top priority for me since I took office.
 
I am pleased to report that significant progress has been made since the launch of the System-wide Strategy on Gender Parity in 2017.
 
In 2019, for the first time in the United Nations history, we reached parity in the Senior Management Group and among Resident Coordinators.
 
And on January 1st of this year, we attained a further milestone: parity among all full-time senior leaders – ASGs and USGs - with 90 women and 90 men at that level in the Organization, not including the specialized agencies. The specialized agencies are organized in such a way that the Secretary-General has no role in the choice of their leaders. Their leaders are entirely chosen by an election among Member States, and if you look at the present situation of the leadership of the specialized agencies, there is an overwhelming male majority. So, as we are moving clearly into gender parity in the part of the UN – the Secretariat, Funds and Programmes and some other similar entities like UNHCR - if in this group in which leaders are either appointed by me or elected by the General Assembly  under my recommendation, we reached full parity.  In relation to those that are elected by Member States, we have an overwhelming majority of men. It is good to have that into account as the Friends of Gender Parity need to be friends of gender parity across the board.
 
But this is not enough. Our goal is to reach parity at all levels of the Organization, and in all entities.

We need women to lead our political mediation efforts as well as be our chief economists, our peacekeepers and our engineers.
 
With that in mind, we launched a Global Call for nominations for the top leadership positions in the field, first in 2017 and again last year, aimed at increasing the pool of candidates and improving women’s representation and geographical balance in peace operations. The Call generated a rich pool of diverse candidates and concrete, positive results: fourteen Global Call nominees have been appointed to Head and deputy Head of Mission positions, representing about a third of all SRSG and DSRSG appointments.
 
But despite the success of the outreach campaign, only 19 per cent of the nominations came from Member States – and only 45 per cent of those were women.  Moreover, I am sorry to say, less than one-third of this Group of Friends engaged in the process. I urge you to increase your nominations for leadership positions in the field. It is imperative that we make the most of the rich diversity of expertise and leadership skills in our men and women from around the globe.
 
Within this plea I make a special request for your nominations to include women candidates. Our greatest challenge in reaching parity is in our field missions, where the challenges to gender parity are the most pervasive and the rate of change the slowest.  Having women at the helm can undoubtedly help. 
 
However, we still see a gap between the P3 to D1 levels, and we are making concerted efforts across all entities to address the imbalance.  This means keeping gender parity considerations front and centre in all our policies. We are working closely with our staff management machinery to make progress in a number of key areas, such as the gender focal points who support these efforts in entities across the Secretariat and the UN system. 
 
With ongoing and planned downsizing in our field missions in the coming months and years, we risk going backwards.  To mitigate the risk, I proposed in late 2018 to include gender among the criteria for recruitment and retention.  The proposals now require action by Member States, as they need to be approved by Member States and the General Assembly.  I count on your support to push for an urgent decision within the General Assembly that will address some of our concerns on the gender gap. 
 
I have reminded the entire senior leadership team about the special measures we have in place to advance parity throughout the system. If a male candidate is hired in an office or department that has not yet achieved gender parity, and where an equally competent female candidate had been identified, an explanation must be sent to my office detailing the reasoning for the decision prior to final selection being made.
 
As long as we lack women in our missions, we are not reaching our full potential.
 
We know that inclusivity improves the quality of our analysis and our decision-making. And nowhere in the Organization are we faced with more complex challenges on a daily basis than in the field.
 
To address these shortfalls, especially in our peace operations, I established a Working Group on Emergency Measures. The group is working to tackle the challenges and is looking at various opportunities related to rosters, downsizing, recruitment, retirements, talent management, retention and mission conditions.
 
With the advice of this Working Group, I am using all means within my authority and the existing regulatory and policy frameworks of the Organization to reach our goals. But I am not sure that we will be able to meet our goal by the deadline without changes that only the Member States can make.
 
In particular, we need to amend the Staff Regulations and Rules so that we can take into account the principle of equitable distribution of positions between men and women in every entity, within all units, and across every level.
 
We need to amend the regulations so that we can improve our retention of women by considering other important factors such as length of service.
 
And we need to ensure that parenting choices can be made without discrimination or undue sacrifice to work life.
 
With amended Staff Regulations and Rules, we could consider women in recruitment processes as a factor complementing equitable geographical representation. This is the kind of diversity and inclusion the United Nations must embody. This is how we walk-the-talk and show that women are a truly valuable asset to the Organization.
 
To achieve all this, I need your help.

I have proposed several amendments to the Staff Regulations and Rules, as outlined in my two reports to the General Assembly last year. One is before the Fifth Committee at this current session, while the other remains with the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions – normally known as ACABQ. Without these amendments we will not achieve our goals anytime soon.

We also need to ensure that our gender and geographical diversity strategies are complementary. We must address the misperception that gender inclusion comes at the cost of geographical diversity and other priorities. This is simply not the case.

Our geographical diversity strategy focuses now on two areas.

With respect to equitable geographical representation, the goal is to have every Member State represented in the Organization, and to bring as many under-represented Member States within range in the system of desirable ranges.

With regard to greater regional group diversity, the goal is to reduce the proportion of the most highly represented regional group, and to increase the proportion of less represented regional groups, thereby reducing the overall imbalance.   

Your help is also needed in diversifying our pool of candidates at every level.

I urge you to create your own talent management pipelines through your Ministries and national universities, and to encourage more women to consider careers in the Organization. I never, ever again want to hear the excuse that, and I quote, “we could not find a qualified woman”. This cannot be true.

I also encourage you to target women in the science, technology, engineering and math tracks. Having more women in the STEM fields can bring life-changing benefits for all and help the Organization itself meet the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution.

Having more women as experts and decision-makers throughout the Organization would undoubtedly improve the way we deliver on the ground. The equal participation of women in all areas ensures that we benefit from the intelligence, experience and insights of all of humanity, not just half.
 
Of course, we cannot focus only on numbers. Even if we achieve parity, it will not be sustainable unless we change the organizational culture. We see too many women leaving the Organization because of policies that do not adequately support the combining of professional and private life. This is a challenge not only for parity, but for the United Nations as a whole. Only with competitive and modern family-friendly policies will we be able to attract, engage and retain the best talent.
 
This is why I am encouraged to see the ongoing work on reforming parental leave in the International Civil Service Commission. The final decision, however, is up to the Member States and, therefore I hope we can count on your support in the Fifth Committee in the period ahead.
 
I also urge all Member States to become champions of the gender parity agenda in ways that are both visible and impactful.

You can for example, show your commitment in the composition of your delegations.

You can show it by putting forward women candidates for senior posts, including in peacekeeping operations.

You can show it by organizing panels that are gender-balanced.

Show it in your public commitments and official statements, and especially by taking positions in key decision-making bodies of the Organization, such as the Fifth Committee, to support the attainment of parity in the UN.
 
As we mark Beijing+25 and the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, and as we embark on a crucial “Decade of Action” to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals, the world looks to us to lead by example by ensuring that our workplaces are truly inclusive and that they embrace diversity – gender diversity and regional diversity.
 
Just as we ask of the rest of the world to “leave no one behind” and uphold the Charter’s commitment to the “equal rights of men and women”, so must our Organizational culture and practices do the same.
 
In that spirit of shared purpose, I look forward to your contributions to our discussion today.
 
Thank you very much.