UN Chief’s Cabinet Stacked With Men, Less than 30% of Posts Held by Women

Antonio Guterres takes the oath of office for his five-year term as UN Secretary-General. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten.

April 18, 2017 – Antonio Guterres has done little so far to reverse the gender imbalance in terms of senior posts held by women in the United Nations.

The UN’s senior management group, which essentially acts as Guterres’ cabinet, consists of 42 high-level appointments, and of the 42, just 13, or less than 30 percent, are held by women, much the same as it was under Ban Ki-moon.

Immediately after his election as the ninth UN secretary-general, Guterres spoke of his commitment to a UN where 50 percent of senior posts would be held by women, which was also the goal of his predecessor, Ban Ki-moon.

His first appointments were encouraging in this regard, appointing Nigeria’s Amina Mohammed as his deputy and Brazil’s Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti as his chef-de-cabinet.

Since then however, two of the top posts held by women, executive-director of the World Food Program and administrator of the UN Development Program have been given to men with David Beasley replacing Etharin Cousin as head of WFP, and Achim Steiner replacing Helen Clark as head of UNDP.

Guterres has to be mindful of the gender imbalance in the UN system given the widespread expectation that Ban would be succeeded by a female leader, which would have been the world body’s first ever.

But it seems as if it’s business as usual so far under Guterrres, with the permanent five members ruling the roost. Another Frenchman, Jean-Pierre Lacroix was appointed as head of peacekeeping while the other crucial and high visibility posts, such as heads of OCHA, UNICEF, Political Affairs – currently all held by men, will likely be divvied up among the P5.

It’s early days in Guterres’ reign and it has to be acknowledged that he is bound by the wishes of the P5, but advocates are closely watching his appointments with the expectation that he will hold firm on his promise made after his inauguration.

“In the appointments I’ll be making – and the first ones will be announced soon – you will see that gender parity will become a clear priority from top to bottom in the UN,” Guterres told journalists after the ceremony.

His first 100 days in office have passed and besides the the two early appointments, Guterres has so far failed to live up to his promise.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Russia to Run DPA, US Seeks to Rule Management Department Under Guterres

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November 17, 2016 – Russia will run the Dept. of Political Affairs under incoming secretary-general Antonio Guterres while the United States is said to seek control of the Dept. of Management where it will attempt to rein in a bloated bureaucracy and cut waste, knowledgeable insiders have told UN Tribune.

While peacekeeping is seen as the face of the United Nations to the outside world, inside the UN, the Dept. of Political Affairs has quietly gained influence and in the future is viewed as the most important division in the United Nations system. Going forward, the thinking is that the greater impact DPA has in its preventive diplomacy and mediation, conflict prevention, electoral assistance, and peacebuilding mandates then the less need there will be for peacekeeping.

This fits with the overarching emphasis the United Nations has placed on resilience, with the aim to build stronger systems and societies and to prevent fragile states from falling back into conflict.

Control over the Dept. of Political Affairs will also give Russia much greater leverage inside the Security Council as the Council’s agenda is increasingly set by DPA. “It’s DPA that pitches up to the Security Council,” is how one insider put it to UN Tribune.

The US currently controls DPA where former State. Dept. official Jeffrey Feltman is the current undersecretary-general. What has not been said is whether Russia will be getting DPA because of its decision to support Guterres. The permanent five members of the Council divvy up the top UN positions among themselves and it is not unlikely that if Russia does get to run DPA, it will part of a secret P5 deal to get Moscow’s support for Guterres.

That the United States is seeking the Dept. of Management, currently run by Japanese diplomat Yuki Takasu, makes perfect sense, even more so in the wake of Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the recent US presidential election. The US Congress has long griped that US taxpayers money going to support UN programs and agencies is wasted. Staff costs account for some two-thirds of the budget of UN agencies and these same agencies often have overlapping mandates.

The US provides 22 percent to the UN’s regular budget, a contribution of about $600 million, while it provides 28 percent of the UN’s peacekeeping budget, some $2.4 billion of the almost $9 billion budget for blue helmet operations. In addition, Washington contributes to the budgets of about 20 other UN agencies and programs including WHO, IAEA, UNDP, UNICEF, UNAIDS and UNHCR. It is also the top contributor to UN aid appeals.

– Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

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Former Danish PM Nominated to Head UN Refugee Agency

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Sept. 4, 2015 –  Former Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt was nominated by her government on Friday as a candidate to succeed Portugal’s Antonio Guterres as head of the UN refugee agency. Guterres, also a former prime minister, has headed the agency since 2005 and was nominated unopposed by Ban Ki-moon for a second term in 2010.

His successor will be elected by the General Assembly in the fall.

Thorning-Schmidt would be the eleventh high commissioner for refugees and the second woman to head the world refugee agency since its inception in 1950. The agency, with almost 10,000 staff members, works in 123 countries responding to a growing global refugee crisis. Japan’s Sadako Ogata was the first female high commissioner for refugees. She served from 1991-2001.

There are currently 60 million refugees around the world, a figure which includes 40 million displaced inside their own borders and five million Palestinian refugees, whose welfare is handled by a separate agency, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Syria overtook Afghanistan this year as the world’s biggest source country for refugees with more than four million having fled the country – 3.7 million of whom are hosted in neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan – in addition to almost eight million displaced inside their own borders. Afghanistan, for long the world’s biggest source country, has the second highest number of refugees residing outside its borders at 2.6 million – mostly hosted in Iran and Pakistan, followed by Somalia, with 1.1 million refugees who are mostly residing in Ethiopia and Kenya.

Thorning-Schmidt served as her country’s prime minister from October 2011 until June this year and was Denmark’s first female premier. She was a member of the European parliament from 1999-2004 and in 2005 succeeded Mogens Lykketoft as leader of Denmark’s Social Democrats party. Lykketoft has since been elected as president of the 70th UN General Assembly and will assume his post this month. Thorning-Schmidt is daughter-in-law of the former leader of the British Labour party, Neil Kinnock.

During her time as prime minister, she rolled back anti-immigration policies put in place by her predecessor including eliminating the immigration and integration ministry although she was criticized during her 2015 campaign for prime minister – which her party lost to an anti-immigration coalition – for taking a tough stance on immigration saying immigrants and refugees must learn Danish and must work. During Thorning-Schmidt’s tenure time in office the number of asylum seekers and refugees in Denmark more than doubled and she proposed sending people back to their home countries if the situation permitted.

She made global headlines in 2013 when she posed for a selfie with US President Barack Obama during Nelson Mandela’s memorial service.

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Eight of the 10 previous high commissioners for refugees have been Europeans including Thorning-Schmidt’s fellow Dane, Poul Hartling, who served from 1978-1985 and collected a Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the agency in 1981. While senior UN positions are ostensibly open to nominations from all member states, the top posts tend to be divided among the permanent members of the Security Council and major donor countries.

Having missed out on the top humanitarian job, which a Norwegian and Swede held in the past, there’s a view among Danish diplomats that the refugee chief job should go to a Scandinavian.

– Denis Fitzgerald @denisfitz

Updated to reflect Thorning-Schmidt would be only second ever female high-commissioner in 65 years.