International Women's Day
8 March 1980 

Press Release SG/SM/2882, 11 March 1980


The following is the text of a speech by Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim in connexion with International Women's Day delivered yesterday at a meeting organized by the Secretariat's Ad Hoc Group on Equal Rights for Women.

It is with great pleasure that I join you once again to celebrate International Women's Day.

As I recall, it was in 1977 that, for the first time, the Ad Hoc Group on Equal Rights for Women asked me to share with the members of your group and all concerned staff members, my views on the question of equal employment opportunities for women and men in our Organization. In view of the importance of this question, it is evidently necessary that the relevant policies and practices should be re-examined each year. We have to take measure of the progress that has been made towards the objective of eliminating discrimination against women. It is entirely appropriate that International Women's Day be the occasion for such a review and appraisal.

Let us first recapitulate what has been accomplished in the last few years in order to develop a clear perception of what is yet to be done.

In 1977, I issued a bulletin on the question of equality of men and women in the Secretariat. This bulletin set out a policy by which any differential treatment based on sex was to be eliminated from the United Nations Staff Regulations and Staff Rules and called for equal opportunity in the conditions of employment, appointment, placement, assignment and promotion without regard to the sex of the staff member. It was further emphasized that these changes in the statutory provisions would into be sufficient to bring about genuine conditions of equality in the Secretariat and that they had to be accompanied by the change of attitude on the part of the staff as well as changes in administrative and personnel policies and practices.

This was followed in June by an Administrative Instruction which established panels for the investigation of allegations of discriminatory treatment at duty stations away from Headquarters. Thus. The type of mechanism for investigating alleged discrimination which had previously been established for staff at Headquarters was extended to other duty stations also. Some months later, in March 1979, an Information Circular was published containing guidelines for promoting equal treatment for men and women in the Secretariat. Their purpose was to eradicate the kind of attitude, behaviour and language which stems form discrimination based on sex.

This year, an Administrative Instruction has just been issued on the question of the employment of spouse by the Organization. This will allow greater flexibility in applying the staff rule governing the employment of spouses. It also provides guidelines regarding the assignment of married couples to the same duty station. Both steps are expected to afford women better opportunities for employment and career development.

Another important measure which has been taken is the extension of the duration of maternity leave from 12 weeks to 16 weeks. This has taken effect from the beginning of the current year.

As I cite these Bulletins and Administrative Instructions, I share the thought with you, my dear colleagues, that it is not enough to lay down policies. Measures have to be taken to implement them. With this realization, I issued specific instructions to Heads of Departments and Offices in June of last year, asking them to co-operate fully with the Office of Personnel Services to ensure that every effort is made to implement General Assembly resolutions on the subject. Their attention was particularly drawn to the resolution requesting that the number of women in posts subject to geographical distribution be increased to 25 per cent of the total over a four-year period. Mr. (James) Jonah (Assistant Secretary-General for Personnel services), in his guidelines to Heads of Departments and Offices, has suggested that, to the extent possible, at least two out of every five appointment at the professional level and about above should be o women, and that special efforts had to be made to increase the representation of women at the senior levels. I understand that, while in spite of these instruction, progress in the past was slow, in recent months an encouraging trend has been developing with regard to the appointment of women.

During the last quarter of 1979, for example, 12 out of 35 officers of appointment to posts subject to geographical distribution were made to women. This represents a proportion of 34 per cent, or twice the previous rate.

In addition, department and office heads, in main their recommendations for promotions to the Appointment and Promotion bodies, have been requested to ensure equal regard for women in the Secretariat in this respect. I am fully aware of the deep sense of disappointment at the relatively small number of women included in last year's promotion registers, particularly at the higher levels. It is my sincere hope that results will be more encouraging this year.

These are all modest achievements towards our common goal. I fully understand the feeling of discouragement that you, Madam President, have just expressed at the slow pace of progress. However, I do not have to tell you how very difficulty it is to bring about rapid changes in attitudes and practices which have persisted for centuries. We are trying to create an environment in which the attitude of discrimination on the grounds of sex will be felt to be unworthy and obsolete. A positive indication of this effort is furnished by the fact that services which used to be restricted to either sex are now increasingly open to both male and female staff members. We have all noticed, for example, a greater number of women in the Security Service; likewise, more men are now giving guided tours to visitors from all parts of the world. This is a policy which helps to eradicate the tendency to stereotype people into certain functions. I expect tit to be maintained in the future.

My dear colleagues, any review of the situation leads to the conclusion that much remains to be done if we are to achieve equal and balanced treatment for women and men staff members in the Secretariat. I can assure you that I will carefully monitor developments in this respect. I know that I can count on the full co-operation of all my colleagues in managerial positions to make every effort to advance towards the goal which your group, Madam President, is striving to achieve and to which all staff members have to be loyal it this Organization is to conform to the ideals of its Charter.

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