Monday, January 23, 2017


The occasion of selecting the 9th Secretary-General saw unprecedented public demand for a feminist leader. This prompted many candidates, including Mr. Guterres, to outline beliefs and propose strategies to recognize, protect and promote women’s rights and voice as a key part of their platform for leadership of the United Nations. 

Over the fall of 2016, the International Center for Research on Women interviewed leading feminist activists, philanthropists, UN insiders and former UN officials as to what a more feminist UN would look like. A number of proposals emerged, which were articulated in an unabridged policy paper. Following the quick selection of Antonio Guterres as the world’s next Secretary General, the paper was culled to present an agenda for actions that could be taken by the new Secretary General in his first hundred days in the post to advance this vision and in response to the widespread and unprecedented calls for female and feminist leadership of the United Nations. 

It is imperative that the UN system, its actors and policies reflect and embrace gender equality as a fundamental human right. As its highest officer, the Secretary-General must personify this commitment by fully embracing gender equality and the human rights of women and girls, taking immediate and visible actions to ensure more equal representation of and by people of all genders throughout the system itself and advancing those rights in the policies and practices that it upholds. This document describes concrete steps that should be taken by the Secretary General in the first hundred days to promote women’s rights and to ensure greater gender equality at the United Nations, both in its internal operations and in fulfilling its mission to promote human rights, peace and sustainable development globally. 
Without intentional reform, the entire UN system risks failing in its mission and reinforcing entrenched inequalities that will destabilize social and economic development, perpetuate ecological imbalance and undermine the fulfillment of universal human rights. The UN also risks its own irrelevance and complicity in further exacerbating power asymmetries. 

The incoming Secretary-General should signal willingness to take on these issues headon by setting out a feminist agenda for the first hundred days that acknowledges the challenges inherent in the system and articulates a pathway forward. The following agenda should be embraced by Mr. Guterres as a display of good faith in recognition of those calls for feminist leadership, and to ensure the UN is fit for purpose at this critical time. 
At his swearing-in ceremony and ensuing press conference, Secretary-General Guterres committed to achieving gender parity by the end of his term, and making this a key priority for his first hundred days. This is a welcome signal following unprecedented calls for female leadership at the UN during the course of the SG selection process. But a feminist agenda includes and transcends female leadership—coming to power at a time of worrying global trends in nationalism, xenophobia and crackdowns on women’s rights, Secretary-General Guterres must also actively champion women’s rights with world leaders and within the UN system and model accountability, equality and transparency through his agenda.

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