Welcome to the United Nations. It's your world.

Gender related UN Secretariat policies

The General Assembly has repeatedly called for the United Nations to reach gender parity at all levels. The goal was mandated to be achieved by the year 2000. Yet, overall representation remains sub-optimal at approximately 37 per cent in the Secretariat and varies widely for the different entities of the UN system. Progress has ranged from being unacceptably slow in some instances to being markedly positive in others. Achieving and sustaining the target, however, requires consistent political commitment at the highest level as well as policies which assist in translating this commitment into an organizational culture that facilitates the equal participation of men and women in all dimensions of the organization's work.

In this context, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has repeatedly expressed his commitment to make good on the mandate and his own promise to ensure a working culture at the United Nations that leads by example. On the issue of gender balance and gender-friendly policies, in April 2008, he wrote to staff (link to iseek post and letter) and to all Heads of Departments and Offices to alert them to the need to accelerate progress. He noted that at current rates of progress, it would take until 2120 to reach gender balance at some levels (P-5). The Secretary-General reminded managers of their responsibility and asked them to make it a priority to achieve gender balance – and also to create a positive and healthy work environment for both men and women. He also noted that he counts on staff to hold managers accountable.

To provide the full context of policies governing gender issues, the Office of the UN Focal Point for Women has assembled the following easy reference guide to relevant documentation.

I.       Staff Selection System
- Promotion
- Gender targets
- Time on roster

II.      Special measures to improve the status of women in the Secretariat

III.      Departmental Focal Points

IV.     Work-Life Policies - Flexible Working Arrangements
- Staggered working hours
- Compressed work schedule
- Scheduled break for external learning activities
- Work away from the office (Telecommuting)   

V.     Part-time work

VI.      Leave - Family leave, Maternity leave and Paternity leave
- Adoption leave
- Parental leave as special leave without pay
- Special leave in cases of death or emergency
- Maternity leave
- Paternity leave
- Policy on breastfeeding

VII.     Prohibition of Discrimination and Harassment including   Sexual Harassment

VIII.    Special Measures for Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse

IX.   Administration of Justice
- Ethics office
- Protection against retaliation

X.     Conflict Resolution
- Sources of assistance on informal solutions to conflicts
- More formal measures to resolve conflicts
- Specialized avenues to provide specific resource in defined situations

XI.      Annexes to Section IV
Annex I:  Agreement on compressed work schedule
Annex II:  Flexible working arrangements
Annex III: Agreement on scheduled break for external learning  activities
Annex IV: Agreement on work away from the office (Telecommuting)



I.  Staff Selection System - ST/AI/2006/3/REV.1 (2010)
ST/AI/2006/3 Para 5.5(b) (ii)

The following elements of the staff selection system administrative instruction relate specifically to women: consideration as an internal candidate for promotions and appointments, measures to reach gender targets and increased time on the roster.

Eligibility requirements promotions and appointments ST/AI/2006/3 Para 5.5(b) (ii)

Eligibility for consideration at the 30 day mark for promotion against a post one level higher than the level of the staff member, or appointment at the same level of staff who are not internal candidates but fall in the following categoryWomen staff members who hold a current appointment of any type at the P-3/L-3  level may be considered for vacancies at the P-4 level; women staff members holding a current appointment of any type at the P-4/L-4 level may be considered for vacancies at the P-4 or P-5 level, provided in each case that they have been in the service of the Organization for a cumulative period of at least one year prior to application and meet the requirements of section 5.3 (see Administrative Instruction), where applicable. The same shall apply to women serving with the other entities of the United Nations common system.

Gender TargetsST/AI/2006/3 Para 9.2
If the head of a department/office who has not met the gender targets set out in the departmental action plan proposes to select a male candidate where an equally qualified female candidate exists, the proposed selection decision must be justified to, and approved by, OHRM.

Time on RosterST/AI/2006/3 Para 9.3
In order to facilitate achievement of gender parity goals set by the General Assembly, female candidates shall remain on the roster for three years after the first day of the month following the selection decision.

II. Special measures to improve the status of women in the SecretariatST/AI/1999/9
The Secretary-General instituted a series of special measures applicable to the recruitment, promotion and placement of women. These measures, which were aimed at the achievement of the goal of 50/50 gender distribution in the Secretariat, will remain in effect until the Secretary-General is satisfied that substantial progress towards the goal of gender balance has been made. The special measures governing the selection and placement of women candidates apply for the filing of all vacant posts at the Professional level in every department and office that has not met the goal of 50/50 gender distribution overall and at each grade level.

In order to further strengthen the applicability of the special measures for the achievement of gender equality in the Secretariat, a working group, chaired by the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, reviewed and revised the special measures for the achievement of gender equality contained in the administrative instruction ST/AI/412. The revised special measures were issued as (ST/AI/1999/9) on 21 September 1999.

III. Departmental Focal PointsST/SGB/2008/12
The Departmental Focal Points in each department or office or regional office perform the following functions:

  1. Support the head of department or office or regional commission to achieve gender equality in the department or office by contributing to the development of the human resources action plan and by promoting awareness of gender issues and means to achieve gender equality;
  2. Serve as ex-officio member of all departmental panels to advise the head of the department or office on the selection of staff for vacant posts in the Professional category and above and to advise on special post allowances for Professionals, General Service staff and related categories;
  3. Assist the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI) and the Focal Point for Women in OSAGI in the Secretariat in monitoring the achievement of gender equality within the department or office, evaluating measures taken to develop a gender-sensitive work environment, and enhancing training and career development opportunities;
  4. Assist the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women in the development of policies and programmes to achieve gender equality in the Secretariat by contributing ideas on issues affecting the status of women;
  5. Counsel women staff within their department or office on matters affecting their career development or conditions of service;
  6. Meet with managers and staff in the department or office to discuss the implementation of special measures to foster a supportive working environment conducive to both women and men participating in the work of the department or office;
  7. Serve as ex-officio member on the local Appointment Promotion Committee at offices away from Headquarters wherein the focal points give advice to the head of the office on the selection of staff for vacant posts in the Professional category and above.  The departmental focal points who attend the departmental panel shall not attend the local Appointment and Promotion Committee for cases reviewed by the departmental focal point as an ex officio member of the departmental panel.  The alternate departmental focal point shall attend the local Appointment and Promotion Committee.

Click here for Terms of reference.

IV. Work Life Policies - Flexible Working Arrangements;
ST/SGB/2003/4; – Improvement of the status of women in the UN System - A/61/318– para 74 and guidelines

The Secretariat introduced flexible working arrangements on 1 February 2003 following a six-month pilot. Work/life issues were identified as central to the objective of assisting all staff to better reconcile work and family responsibilities and, more importantly perhaps, to address issues associated with recruitment and retention, especially with a view to the expected future workforce.  An analysis of the slow causes of advancement of women in the UN system revealed a managerial culture that views the adoption of work/life policies as a barrier to productivity and efficiency, and as incompatible both with career advancement and performance. Without a change in this fact, the implications in terms of recruitment, retention and the perception of good modern governance are negative and organizationally unhelpful.

Four policies are available to staff for their use:
- Staggered Working Hours
- Compressed Work Schedule
- Scheduled break for external learning activities
- Work away from the office (Telecommuting).

Staggered Working Hours - Flexible Working Arrangements; ST/SGB/2003/4 – Option 1

Core office hours are from 10 am to 4 pm. During these hours, staff must be present, except for one hour for lunch.  Starting and ending times on either side of the core hours are permitted to vary to suit the personal needs of staff.  Staff are expected to work the number of hours per day that have been established under the common workweek in New York, eight and a half hours (eight hours when the General Assembly is not in session) with a break of one hour for lunch.  Flexible working hours within an office or team should be discussed and agreed upon among team members to maximize the benefits to staff and the Organization. 

Compressed work schedule- Flexible Working Arrangements; ST/SGB/2003/4 – Option 2

Under this option, the number of hours that would normally have been worked during a period of ten days are compressed into nine days.  This requires staff to extend their work hours during the nine days to cover the hours that would have been worked on the tenth day.  This redistribution of normal working hours will provide staff with the opportunity to take one day off of the normal workweek, every other week. To the extent possible, Friday will be designated as the off day for the Department. However, on a case by case basis, alternative days may be considered by the Director concerned.  Agreements between staff members and managers on compressed schedules must be in writing.
Click here for Annex I:  Agreement on Compressed Work Schedule
Click here for Annex II:  Flexible Working Arrangements

Scheduled break for external learning activities - Flexible Working Arrangements; ST/SGB/2003/4 – Option 3

Staff members wishing to attend courses relevant to their professional development at universities or other institutions of learning may request breaks of up to three hours per day for a maximum of two days per week.  The hours spent away from work during a particular week must be made up during that week.
Click here for Annex III:  Agreement on Scheduled Break for External Learning Activities

Work away from the office (Telecommuting) -  Flexible Working Arrangements -  ST/SGB/2003/4 – Option 4

Where the nature of the work permits, staff members may spend up to two days per week working from an alternative work site (remote place). Staff members must be reachable by telephone and/or e-mail and are expected to work the full number of work hours for that day. It is a prerequisite for this arrangement that staff members have their own appropriate hardware and software installed at the remote work place. Appropriate provisions will depend on the tasks to be carried out, but will normally include a computer, a printer and access to the Internet plus a telephone.  

Specific work outputs and means of communication for the duration of the staff member’s absence must be specified in a written agreement
Click here for Annex IV:  Agreement on Work Away from the Office

V. Part-time work - Part-time employment - ST/AI/291/Rev.1

This instruction extends, in certain cases, the option for part-time employment to all categories of staff appointed under the 100 series of the Staff Rules except for mission service and other assignments of a limited duration.  Part-time staff will be required to work one half of the scheduled work day or work week.  Appropriate arrangements will have to be made between the staff members concerned and their supervisors, subject to the agreement of the head of the office or department concerned.  Salary and allowances are half that applicable to normal staff.  See Administrative instruction for further details.

VI. Leave - Family leave, maternity leave and paternity leave
Staff rules 105.2 (a) (iii) b and 205.3 (a) (iii); ST/AI/2005/2

A.  Family Leave→ ST/AI/2005/2, Para I

Adoption leave → ST/AI/2005/2 Para I, Section 3
The Secretary-General may, under staff rules 105.2 (a) (iii) b and 205.3 (a) (iii), grant special leave with full pay to a staff member who adopts a child subject to the following conditions:
(a)      The staff member is expected by the Secretary-General to serve for at least one year after returning from such special leave, and
(b)     The child is legally adopted or, in the case of customary or de facto adoption, may be recognized as a dependant of the staff member under the applicable rules. However, leave under this section shall not be granted when the child is a stepchild of the staff member, or when the child has previously been living with the staff member for an extended period of time. Normally, the adopted child must be under the age of 18 years.
(c)     Special leave granted under this section shall be for a continuous       period not exceeding eight weeks starting from the date of the adopted child’s arrival in the adopting staff member’s home.

Parental Leave as special leave without payST/AI/2005/2, Para I Section 4
Parental leave as special leave without pay under staff rule 105.2 for a newly born or adopted child.

Special leave without pay for a period of up to two years may be granted as parental leave under staff rule 105.2 (a) (iii) b to a staff member who is the mother or the father of a newly born or adopted child, provided the staff member has a permanent appointment, or has completed three years of continuous service on a fixed-term appointment and is expected by the Secretary-General to continue in service for at least six months beyond the date of return from the proposed parental leave.

Special leave in cases of death or emergency ST/AI/2005/2 Para I, Section 4

In accordance with staff rules 105.2 (a) (iii) c and 205.3 (a) (iii), special leave without pay may be also granted upon the death of a member of the immediate family of the staff member, which includes a spouse, child, parent, brother or sister, or in case of serious family emergency. Such leave shall normally be granted for a period of up to two calendar weeks, plus necessary travel time, if applicable.

B.  Maternity leave → ST/AI2005/2 Para II, Sections 6, 7, and 8

Pre-delivery leave: Upon submission by the staff member of a certificate from a licensed medical practitioner or midwife indicating the expected date of delivery, the executive or local personnel office shall normally grant pre-delivery leave for a period of six weeks.

Post-delivery leave:  On the basis of the birth certificate, post-delivery leave shall be granted for a period equivalent to the difference between 16 weeks and the actual period of pre‑delivery leave. However, if owing to a miscalculation on the part of the medical practitioner or midwife, the pre-delivery leave was more than six weeks, the staff member shall be allowed post-delivery leave of no less than 10 weeks.

Relationship of maternity leave to other entitlements

Sick leave and annual leave

No sick leave shall be granted during maternity leave. Annual leave shall accrue during maternity leave and shall be credited on a monthly basis.

Extension of fixed-term appointments for utilization of maternity leave entitlement:

Pregnant staff members on fixed-term appointments shall be considered for extension or conversion of their appointment under the same criteria as other staff. The fact that a staff member is or will be on maternity leave shall not be a factor in that consideration.

C.  Paternity leave → ST/AI/2005/2

Paternity leave shall be granted in respect of a child born on or after 23 December 2004, provided that the staff member was in service at the time of the birth. The staff member may request paternity leave for a total period of up to four weeks or, in the case of an internationally recruited staff member serving at a non-family duty station, up to eight weeks. In exceptional circumstances, such as incapacity or death of the mother, inadequate medical facilities or medical complications encountered at time of pregnancy or after the birth, the staff member may request leave for a total period of up to eight weeks. Decisions regarding the adequacy of medical facilities at the duty station to address the medical condition of the mother or the existence of medical complications shall be made upon the recommendation of the authorized United Nations medical officer at the staff member’s duty station. The paternity leave entitlement may be used only once during each twelve- month period.

Policy on breastfeeding→ ST/SGB/2003/14

The policy shall apply to all United Nations Secretariat staff members who are nursing mothers of infants under one year of age. All staff members included in the scope of application of the present bulletin shall be authorized to receive time off from work for the purpose of breastfeeding their infants or expressing milk. Such time shall not be charged to annual leave.

A mother who needs to leave work premises to nurse her infant shall be given for that purpose up to two hours daily, including commuting time. Alternatively, if the mother wishes to express her milk, she shall be given up to one hour daily for that purpose.
The timing of the daily absences from work shall to the greatest possible extent be determined by the needs of the staff member, who shall nevertheless consult with her supervisor to achieve the optimal balance with the needs of the service.

A private and suitably furnished area, and a refrigerator for storing milk, shall be made available on a permanent basis to breastfeeding mothers at headquarters duty stations in New York, Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi. Regional commissions and other large and medium-size offices shall provide similar arrangements. Small offices are required to make arrangements if and when the actual need arises. Staff members who are nursing mothers with an infant under one year of age may elect to have the infant travel with them on official business travel, except when the staff member travels to a non-family duty station.

When travel of the infant is permitted, in addition to the travel expenses authorized for the mother, the Organization shall pay for the infant:
(a) 10 percent of the cost of the mother’s ticket; and
(b) 10 percent of the applicable daily subsistence allowance.
No travel expenses shall be paid on account of caretakers.

VII. Prohibition of discrimination, harassment including sexual harassment, and abuse of authority
ST/SGB/2008/5 and ST/SGB/2005/20

The Secretary-General’s bulletin on Prohibition of discrimination, harassment including sexual harassment, and abuse of authority applies to all staff of the Secretariat.  Complaints of prohibited conduct may be made by any staff member, consultant, contractor, gratis personnel, including interns, and any other person who may have been subject to prohibited conduct on the part of a staff member in a work-related situation. The bulletin defines prohibited conduct and including harassment, sexual harassment, discrimination and abuse of power.  It also outlines the formal and informal measures an aggrieved individual may pursue in the event of a complaint.

All staff members are required to complete the mandatory online training programme on prevention of harassment, sexual harassment and abuse of authority in the workplace, promulgated under ST/SGB/2005/20. The successful completion of this programme shall be reflected in staff members’ performance appraisal.

VIII.  Special Measures for Protection from sexual exploitation and Sexual Abuse

The Secretary-General’s Bulletin on Special Measures for Protection from sexual exploitation explains the term “sexual exploitation”, the scope of application, the prohibition of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, and the duties of Heads of Departments, Offices and Missions regarding this subject.

For the purposes of the bulletin, the term “sexual exploitation” means any actual or attempted abuse of a position of vulnerability, differential power, or trust, for sexual purposes, including, but not limited to, profiting monetarily, socially or politically from the sexual exploitation of another. Similarly, the term “sexual abuse” means the actual or threatened physical intrusion of a sexual nature, whether by force or under unequal or coercive conditions.

The present bulletin shall apply to all staff of the United Nations,   including staff of separately administered organs and programmes of the United Nations

United Nations forces conducting operations under United Nations command and control are prohibited from committing acts of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, and have a particular duty of care towards women and children, pursuant to section 7 of Secretary-General’s bulletin ST/SGB/1999/13, entitled “Observance by United Nations forces of international humanitarian law”.

 IX. Administration of Justice → ST/SGB/2009/7;
A/61/205; A/RES/59/283; A/59/414

In resolution 61/261 the General Assembly decided to establish a new, independent, transparent, professionalized, adequately resourced and decentralized system of administration of justice for the United Nations.  The new system is to be implemented no later then January 2009.  Document A/62/294 "Administration of justice", sets out the essential elements of the  framework for  new informal and formal  elements of the justice system and provides details on the proposed specific processes.

Ethics Office — establishment and terms of reference

Among its functions the Ethics Office undertakes responsibilities assigned to it under the Organization’s policy for the protection of staff against retaliation for reporting misconduct and for cooperating with duly authorized audits or investigations. 

Protection against retaliation for reporting misconduct and for cooperating with duly authorized audits or investigations

Protection against retaliation applies to any staff member (regardless of the type of appointment or its duration), intern or United Nations volunteer. Retaliation is defined as any direct or indirect detrimental action recommended, threatened or taken because an individual engaged in an activity protected by the present policy. When established, retaliation is by itself misconduct. The bulletin states the procedure for reporting retaliation through established internal mechanisms, external mechanisms, and to the Ethics Office.  It includes information on the protection of persons who suffered retaliation and action against the person who engaged in retaliation.

X. Conflict Resolution

The Information Circular on Conflict Resolution informs staff of the means available to them to address and resolve conflict situations that may arise in the workplace.  Conflict can be defined as any opposition or difference of wishes, needs, statements, Arguments, actions or principles between two or more staff members, or between staff members and the Organization.

Staff members who are involved in conflict situations are encouraged first to seek an informal solution.  The following can assist staff in resolving conflicts:

  1. Supervisors/Human Resources Officers/Executive Officers
  2. The Ombudsman
  3. Panels on Discrimination and other Grievances
  4. Staff Counsellors
  5. Panel of Counsel
  6. Focal Point for Women in the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women
  7. Departmental focal points for women
  8. Staff representative bodies
  9. Members of Joint Appeals Board

General Appeals process - more formal measures to resolve conflicts can be done by:

  1. Administrative review
  2. Appeal to the Joint Appeals Board
  3. Application to the United Nations Administrative Tribunal
  4. Suspension of action
  5. Assistance of counsel

In addition, there are specialized avenues to provide specific recourse in narrowly defined situations:

  1. Decisions of organs of the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund
  2. Competitive examinations for recruitment to the Professional category of staff members from other categories
  3. Service-incurred death, injury or illness
  4. Loss of or damage to personal effects
  5. Medical decisions relating to sick leave
  6. Classification of posts
  7. Performance management and appraisal
  8. Recourse against disciplinary measures
  9. Avenues to deal with harassment – Refer to ST/SGB/2008/5