International Women's Day
8 March 1978 

Press Release SG/SM/2542


The following is the text of a statement by Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim today to the Ad Hoc Group on Equal Rights for Women, at a special meeting held at United Nations Headquarters on the occasion of Women's Day: (A note to correspondents on the meeting has been issued as Note No. 4109 of 6 March.)

I welcome this opportunity to meet with you again, on the occasion of International Women's Day, to review and assess the progress that has been made during the past year towards establishing conditions of equality for all staff members in the Secretariat, and I wish to express my appreciation to the Ad Hoc Group on Equal Rights for Women organizing this annual meeting.

It provides us what a useful forum to exchange views and to engage in a dialogue concerning the most appropriate and effective means to accelerate the process of change that is required if we are to bring genuine equality of opportunity between men and women staff members tin the Organization. In this connection, I would like to assure Ms. De Hedervary (*) that I shall give full consideration to the suggestions she has made today on behalf of the Ad Hoc Group.

A year ago, on this occasion, I issued a bulletin which clearly set forth the policy of the Organization concerning the equality of men and women in the United Nations Secretariat. In this bulletin, I introduced a number of administrative policies and directives, which were designed to accelerate the implementation of this policy in the Secretariat.

As a result, in the past year, a Panel has been established to investigate allegations of discriminatory treatment and the Office of Personnel Services has prepared statistics which have been sent to all departments, detailing the composition of the staff by grade and sex. On this basis each department and division in the secretariat will report on efforts to establish conditions of equality and an equitable balance between men and women staff members. The attention in their annual review to selecting female staff members qualified for promotion or for assignment to positions of greater responsibility. Efforts to recruit more women candidates for appointment to the United Nations have been intensified, and some progress has been made on the proposal to use competitive examinations for advancement from the General Service to the Professional category.

Despite these steps - as the Ad Hoc Group has already pointed out - the results achieved in the past year have been less than satisfactory.

While there has been a modest increase in the number and over-all proportion of women at the lower and middle professional levels in the Secretariat, this positive trend has not been reflected at the most senior levels. The rate at which women were promoted last year also did not show a marked increase. A major problem before the Organization now is to be implement the policies to which it is already committed.

I am very conscious of the constraints and difficulties that face a large organization when it endeavours to change in fundamental way, particularly when that organization is intergovernmental and international in character. Many will resist change, or exaggerate the difficulties involved, or even succumb to apathy and pessimism. Others, particularly those who recognized the necessity and the benefits of changes, wish them to be implemented immediately and set unrealistic or unattainable goals. They then are frustrated at the apparent resistance or inertia of the Organization.

Recently, particularly since International Women's Year, we have seen these differing reactions in the Secretariat. It is time now to transcend them in order to arrive at a real consensus within the Organization concerning the means by which we will realize these objectives.

During the past year there have been some useful reports and recommendations on this subject. A UNITAR ** colloquium on "Women and Decision-making in the United Nations System", held in Vienna in July of last year, proposed a series of interim measures to facilitate the integration of women into the decision-making process of the United Nations. Another study, prepared by the Joint Inspection Unit on Women in the Professional Category, made recommendation on ways to speed up the attainment of an equitable balance between men and women in the United Nations Organizations.

Both reports urge organizations in the United Nations system to set target figures for the number of professional women on their staff by certain dates. The Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) report states that these targets should be both challenging and realistic and should serve "as a stimulus to do more". It also reminds us that "passive action is not sufficient". It suggests that a ration of 25 per cent of women to 75 per cent men among the Professional staff might be achieved by 1980. This is also the date set by the General Assembly for two resolutions for achievement of an equitable balance between men and women staff members at all levels. I believe that we must make men and women staff members at all levels. I believe that we must make every effort to reach this target ration 1980. This must be our first task.

In order to achieve this objective, certain changes in our recruitment procedures will be necessary. One of the JIU recommendations to which I am giving serious consideration is a proposal that, for an interim period, wherever a male and female candidate are equally qualified, preference should be given to the woman, especially if she is from a developing or an under-represented country. I have also decided to ask the Joint Advisory Committee to review and make for recommendations on the guidelines proposed by the Ad Hoc Group on Equal Rights Women for the elimination of discriminatory treatment in attitudes, behaviour and language. I hope that the Joint Advisory Committee will complete its review without undue delay so that these guidelines can be issued to all staff members at an early date.

The Office of Personnel Services is entrusted with the task of monitoring the progress of the new measures which I have proposed, and ensuring that they are carried out. It is, however, the heads of departments, divisions and other supervisors who have a major responsibility in implementing these policy directives. Indeed, the purpose of one of those measures - the preparation by departments of an annual progress report - is precisely to emphasize the fact that each department and division in the United Nations Secretariat will be directly responsible for creating equal opportunities and an equitable balance of men and women staff members.

I attach considerable importance to these progress reports, which require statements of the number of women as compared to the number of men by department, and an indication of which women, in the preceding year, have been appointed, promoted or assigned to posts or functions with increased responsibility, including missions. It is my hope we that these progress reports will do much to ensure that in each department women are given the same opportunities as men to exercise responsibilities that will lead to advancement.

One of the proposals made by the JIU was that targets be set for each major organizational unit. I shall decide whether to introduce this additional policy after I have reviewed the reports of each department.

In conclusion, I wish to report today the observation that I made in my policy statement on 8 March last year, namely that changes in statutory provision are not in themselves sufficient to bring about genuine conditions of equality in the Secretariat. They must be accompanies by a change of attitudes and perceptions on the part of staff, as well as by changes in administrative personnel policies and practices. All staff members have an obligation to respect, in their attitudes, behaviour and language, the equality of colleagues, irrespective of sex.

In stressing, as I have today, the need for even more determined efforts to implement the policy of equal opportunity in the Secretariat, I do not underestimate past progress or the present extent of goodwill and understanding for the need for change. On the contrary, I believe there has been a genuine and progressive shift in attitudes within the Organization and a growing appreciation of the fact that this is not a short-term problem but one which endeavours to eliminate injustice and create conditions of equity, fairness and dignity for all staff members, regardless of sex.

I am fully confident that the Organization will be able to make the necessary changes to ensure that successful implementation of the policy of equal opportunity between the sexes and that it will thus continue to fulfil the high standards required of it by its Charter.

Ms. Clare de Hedervary I President of the Ad Hoc Group on Equal Rights for Women

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