International Women's Day
8 March 1979 

Press Release SG/SM/2683/WOM/88


Following is the text of a statement made today by Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim on the occasion of Women's Day:

Over the last few years, I have come very much to look forward to this annual opportunity, on the occasion of International Women's Day, to address myself to a subject - that of equality of opportunity for women and men in the Secretariat - which is closely related to the principles and objectives of the United Nations. For this opportunity to pause and consider what has been done and what is yet to be accomplished, I must express my appreciation to the organizers of this meeting -- the Ad Hoc Group on Equal Rights for Women. I wish to thank them, particularly in the person of their President, Ms. Claire de Hedervary.

I have a special reason to do so, because, as you all know, Ms. De Hedervary not only chairs the Ad Hoc Group, but is the Chairperson of the Joint Advisory Committee (JAC) as well. Having thanked her once in her capacity as President of the Group, I must thank her also for the Group, I must thank her also for the way in which she has conducted the business of the Joint Advisory Committee. This has not been an easy task, especially during the last few months.

Ms. De Hadervary took over as chairperson only last December and was immediately faced with one of the most difficult problems in the field of staff/management relations that we have had to deal with in many years. She led the Committee through its difficult period with great skill and complete impartiality and in doing so earned the respect and admiration of both staff and management representatives.

As you are all aware, the JAC is cornerstone of our staff/management of the administration relations' system. It is the forum where the representatives of the staff and of the administration meet to consult on the personnel policies and practices of the Organization and - what is more important - where they work to overcome their differences and act as a body in formulating recommendations to me. By her leadership during these past few weeks, I believe that Ms. De Hedervary has done much to strengthen the role of the Joint Advisory Committee in the field of staff/management relations.

I should also like to draw attention to the visible evidence on the podium today of the progress we have made and are making in the United Nations to establish more firmly the place of women at the top levels of the Secretariat.

In addition to Mrs. Sipila, who for some years was the lone and lonely woman at the top level of the Secretariat? I am now glad to welcome Miss Joan Anstee, whom Mr. Morse reluctantly but loyally agreed to release last December in order to become Assistant Secretary-General in the Department of technical Co-operation for Development. I note as well the presence today of Ambassador Lucille Mair, whose appointment as Secretary-General of the 1980 Conference on the Decade for Women I announced only two weeks ago, and who is taking up her official duties later this month.

So we are making progress, slowly but surely, to ensure equality of status for women at the different levels of the Secretariat. You may be sure that other appointments of women at the senior levels of the Secretariat will follow during the course of 1979.

One year ago today, I announced at a meeting similar to this that all heads of Departments and Offices would henceforth be required to submit annual progress reports on the efforts they had made to provide equal opportunity and establish a more equitable balance between posts held by women and men in their respective offices. Our intention in making this request was to emphasize the responsibility of each department, division, branch or section in this important effort.

The first year's reports have now been received. They have given us a valuable tool to assess the progress made as well as the difficulties encountered in all aspects of our task. Even more important, this procedure has made managers and supervisors throughout the Secretariat more aware of their important role in implementing the Organization's policies concerning equality of opportunity for women and men in the Secretariat.

The difficulties are undoubtedly very real. They have always existed, and unless we make up ore minds to do something about them, they always will. We must not regard these problems as insoluble or lean on them as excuses for doing nothing.

In the year ahead, I intend to ask all departments and office heads, all managers and supervisors to concentrate on ways and means to overcome these difficulties for the benefit of the Secretariat as a whole. When we receive the next reports from Departments and offices a year from now, I expect them to have achieved substantial progress.

As you are aware, the General Assembly during its latest session addressed itself to the question of equal opportunity and an equitable balance of women and meant in the Secretariat. In its resolution 33/143 of 20 December 1978, it has established specific goals concerning this question. First, the Assembly has asked that the necessary measures be taken to increase the number of women in posts subject to geographical distribution form its present level of around 20 per cent of the total over a four-year period. Understandably, there are many who consider this period of four years to be excessively long, and the target set by the General Assembly less than adequate to the needs of today.

We must realize, however, that in order ensure that the proportion of women on the staff reaches 25 per cent by 1982, almost one in every three new appointments will be have to be a woman. To achieve even this modest goal, all possible sources of candidates - Government, universities, professional organizations, women's organizations - must be explored. The General Assembly has made it clear that we must reach this target figure without interfering with the effort to achieve a more equitable geographical distribution of the staff of the Secretariat. Yet this must not be used as an excuse for failing to achieve the objective to increase participation f women in the work of our Organization.

The Assembly has also requested the adoption f a series of measures referring to the issuance of policy statements and directives, the representation of women on personnel advisory and administrative boards, the review of recruitment literature, publicity and promotion procedures, internal training programmes and staff rules and procedures covering assignments of married couples to the same duty station, maternity leave, part-time employment and flexible working hours.

We have already had some success in increasing the number of women - both general service and professional staff - participating in our advisory bodies. I am pleased to note that three of the five members of the panel to investigate allegations of discriminatory treatment are women. The number of women serving on the Appointment and Promotion Boards, Committees and Panels has gradually been increased in recent years, and the progressive trend will be continued, both at Headquarters and at other major duty stations in the years ahead.

I should like to refer now to the information circular on guidelines for promoting equal treatment of men and women in the secretariat originally proposed by the Ad Hoc Group on Equal Rights for Women, which has been issued today. This is a significant development. In establishing these guidelines, we are going farther than ever before in emphasizing the need for changes in attitude and perceptions, and in spelling out specifically what behaviour is expected of staff members in their relations with their colleagues, be they women or men. We are no longer legislating only in the area of administrative rules and practices. The sphere we hope to regulate with these guidelines is that of human relation, where many of the day-to-day frustrations that affect our colleagues arise.

I am pleased to say that action is also being taken with respect to the other requests of the General Assembly. My representatives in the Joint Advisory Committee will soon submit to the Committee for its consideration a paper constituting a basis for the review of rules and procedures concerning assignments of married couples to the same duty station. It should be followed shortly by papers on the rest of these subjects: maternity leave, part-time employment and flexible working hours.

Another subject which is of concern to us all, particularly in this International Year of the Child, relates to the facilities that are required to give proper care and attention to the children of our own staff during working hours. The single parent, especially in the general service, may have particular problems in this respect. I am aware that a survey of need of child-care facilities for United Nations staff is being prepared by the Staff Council on the basis of questionnaire, which has been circulated among the Staff. I have full sympathy for the objectives which the survey has set for staff. I have full sympathy for the objectives which the survey has set for itself, and I look forward to being apprised of the results as soon as it is completed.

We have reviewed today some of the measures already taken to reach our objectives of equality of opportunity for women and men. We have also looked at some of the measures we intend to take in the future. In so doing, I could not fail to notice that we still have much to accomplish. We now have certain objectives which we are seeking to attain we must, however, bear in mind that our present objectives are by no means our ultimate ones. As times change, so will our objectives.

It is, of necessity, a long process, but also an irreversible one. All of us here must make our contribution. Our organization is committed to establishing equality of opportunity and an equitable balance of posts at all levels for women and men in the Secretariat. With the determination and effort of all - management and staff alike - we will be able to achieve this aim.

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