International Women's Day
8 March 1977 

Press Release SG/SM/2422WOM39


Following is the text of a statement made this afternoon by Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim at a general meeting at United Nations Headquarters convened by the Ad Hoc Group on Equal Rights for Women to mark International Women's Day: *

I should like first of all, to take this opportunity to thank the Ad Hoc Group on Equal Rights for Women for organizing this meeting, and for their continuing efforts to bring about improvement in the conditions of service of women staff members within the United Nations Secretariat. I welcome positive initiative on behalf of staff members acting together to promote new ideas and practical initiatives within the Secretariat, since I believe there exists a constant need for constructive and fruitful interchange between policy-makers and all other staff members.

Last year we met together on this same date to mark the opening of the United Nations Decade for Women: Equality, Development and Peace. It is entirely appropriate, therefore, that we should come one year later to review the progress that has been made and assess our future course of action.

The United Nations Secretariat, both as an employer and as an institution, must set standards for the world community which will give visible expression to the principles contained in the charter and the Universal declaration of Human Rights. Non-discrimination on the grounds of sex is one of the basic principles that the Charter calls upon this Organization to uphold. Article 8 of the charter states explicitly: "The United nations shall place no restrictions on the eligibility of men and women to participate under conditions of equality in its principal and subsidiary organs."

That this Article was written into the Charter as long ago as 1946 is a tribute to the foresight and humanity of the architects of this world body. Considering the vast differences in world-wide evaluations of the place of women at that time, it was a startlingly progressive statement. It showed the United Nations in its role of beacon for human advancement, rather than in its condition as mirror for the problems of the world.

It is really only within the last few years, as international sensitivity to discrimination on the basis of sex has increased, that this Organization as a whole begun to awaken to the importance of this Charter statement. And the organization has begun to look with ever-growing interest at the importance of that statement woven by its founders into the Charter's fundamental fabric.

As Member states, as well as many members of our own staff, have now begun to call upon the United Nations to assume a leading role in the effort to make the Secretariat an example of the successful application of the principle of equality between men and women, the Organization as a whole has turned - slowly and laboriously, I will admit, but with complete determination - to the task of eliminating from the secretariat this too-prevalent for of injustice.

Two years ago, in fact, during International Women's Year, significant progress was made towards heightening our own awareness of the need to eliminate this prejudice. Numerous resolutions and recommendations were to implement the principle of equality between the sexes, especially during the decade for Women form 1976 to1985.

Within the secretariat since then we have succeeded in substantially eliminating differential treatment based on sex in the Staff Regulations and Staff Rules. For example, its language has been revised to discontinue the practice of referring to staff members in the masculine gender only, and to make conditions of eligibility for payment of benefits and expenses to a husband or wife uniformly applicable to married staff members irrespective of the dependency status of the spouse. This change is hopeful and bodes well for the future. It provides the statutory basis for equal treatment of all staff members in their terms of appointment and conditions of service.

However, I should like to register my regret that in practical terms, considerably less than satisfactory progress has been made in the year just past in increasing the number of women recruited to posts in the Secretariat and in upgrading the average level of posts held by women, or increasing the number at levels P-5 and above. I do, of course, take some satisfaction in the fact that we now have a second woman staff member the level of Assistant Secretary-General - in this case, serving as Assistant Administrator in the United Nations Development Programme. And another staff member has just been designated Assistant Executive Director of the United Nations Fund for Population Activities. But I am keenly aware that much remains to be done, at all levels. It is up to us now to renew, indeed redouble, our efforts to fully implement the latest General Assembly resolution n this matter.

We have lost time. We must therefore move faster, aware that the establishment of conditions of genuine equality will require changes in perceptions and attitudes, as well as changes in administrative and personnel practices.

One year ago, at this meeting, in a formal declaration of policy I made clear my determination to make every effort to eliminate sex discrimination form the United Nations Secretariat.

Today I reaffirm this commitment to equal opportunity. On this occasion, I am issuing, after consultations with the Joint Advisory Committee, in a bulletin, a number of policy measures designed to implement that declaration. I am specifically requesting staff members who work in a supervisory capacity to ensure that conditions of equal opportunity - as well as the highest possible standards of efficiency, competence and integrity -- exist in their own department, and to further ensure that men and women staff members from both the General service and Professional categories shall be treated equitably in respect to recruitment, placement, promotion and the allocation of work and mission assignments. Among the measures in this bulletin are the following:

  1. I will include a breakdown of staff composition by grade and sex in the report of the Secretary-General on the composition of the Secretariat.
  2. I am asking that departments submit to me annual progress reports which will indicate the efforts they have made to establish condition of equality and a more equitable balance between men and women staff members.
  3. I am asking that particular attention be given in the annual review of promotion to the selection of female staff members who are qualified for promotion or for assignment to positions of greater responsibilities in order to endure that women's chance of advancement at all levels are equal to those of men.
  4. Efforts will be intensified to recruit more women candidates for appointment to the United Nations.
  5. Greater use will be made of competitive examinations for advancement into the Professional category in order to ensure that we can utilize the potential of staff members fairly and objectively.

There is another measure which is likely to be of particular interest too you, and which I wish to bring to your attention now. I am establishing a panel to look into allegations of discriminatory treatment in the Secretariat. This panel is currently being discussed by the Joint advisory Committee, in response to a proposal endorsed by the General Assembly last year in its resolution on the composition of the Secretariat. The panel's aim will be to ensure fair and equitable treatment of all United Nations staff. It is my hope that the establishment of this panel will strengthen the confidence in a system, which is based on the principles of equal treatment and elimination of all discrimination.

These administrative measures which I have mentioned are spelled out in the bulletin which I have issued today. Together with other measure, to be adopted in the months ahead, they are designed to give substance and meaning to the broad statements of policy and principle, which the bulleting also contains.

I fully expect that the implementation of these policies will result in a steady and measurable increase in the number of women staff members at all levels in most occupations, and at all duty stations, and a consequent enrichment by the addition of their talents and skills to the output of the Secretariat at all levels. I am confident that through these and other measures, together with a renewed effort on the part of all staff members, the United Nations Secretarial will become an example of successful implementation of the policy of equality between the sexes that can serve a s a model for other organizations. To the achievement of that objective, I ask all members of the Secretariat to pledge their best efforts in the months and years ahead, confident that the more fully this world body employs all the talent available to it, the richer it will be.

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