Friday, September 16, 2016

Will a Woman Be Elected to Fill These Shoes? (Of UN Secretary General)

Susana Malcorra (Photo: UN)
By Sabrina Hernández

With the end of Ban Ki-moon’s term drawing near, election of the ninth secretary-general is underway. The early candidates included two women from the Latin American and Caribbean group, Susana Malcorra of Argentina and Christiana Figueres of Costa Rica. See  our coverage in the LADB News Service. Figueres has since withdrawn from the race.

Malcorra is one of four women who remain in the running for the post. The others are Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, Helen Clark of New Zealand, and Natalia Gherman of Moldova. No woman has previously served as UN secretary-general.  An important factor in the decision is an unwritten rule of “regional rotation," which would give the upper hand to the Eastern European group as it is a region that has yet to see UN leadership. Gherman and Bokova would both fill the gender and regional roles.

Christiana Figueres (Photo: UN)
So what does the UN Secretary-General do? Well, per the United Nations, the Secretary-General is “equal parts diplomat and advocate, civil servant, and CEO, the Secretary-General is a symbol of United Nations ideals and a spokesman for the interests of the world’s people, in particular the poor and vulnerable among them.”

Yikes! Add to this whopper of a job description the 1 for 7 Billion campaign (referring to one candidate to represent 7 billion people), and the magnitude and weight of this position can begin to be fully understood. Though broadly defined and open to interpretation, it is clear that whoever is elected later this year will have to stand at the forefront and work to address a hefty load of issues that will necessitate strategic leadership, managerial know-how, and efficiently and effectively navigate a plethora of priorities established by the UN’s member states.

Javier Pérez de Cuéllar (Photo: UN)
The 'poet' secreatary-general
A member of the Latin American and Caribbean group has previously held the leadership of the UN, with Javier Pérez de Cuéllar of Peru serving as secretary-general from 1982 to 1991 by A trilingual poet and grandfather, many were uncertain that Pérez de Cuéllar possessed the firm hand believed necessary for the job, which is to serve an emphasis on “world hunger and disease, abuses of human rights, the scourge of war, and the ultimate threat of nuclear catastrophe,”

One of Pérez de Cuéllar's most notable contributions during his tenure was in his home region of Latin America. He personally  became involved in negotiations between the government and guerillas in El Salvador on a peace pact, which brought to an end 12 years of violent civil war in a time of chaos for the region. (Read our coverage in LADB).

 Because of his achievements, some have called Pérez de Cuéllar the "greatest:" secretary-general who has served in the post. However, the recognition was not enough to convince the people of Peru to vote him in as president in South American country's 1994 election

In Pérez de Cuéllar we see a model for what it means to be an effective and esteemed secretary-general. In trying to get a solid grip on this expansive and often vague job description, the next secretary-general should not forget the lessons of those who held the seat before but also bring a fresh perspective and ideas to the table. Four of the nine remaining candidates are women, potentially bringing a new perspective to the job.

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