Catching Up With Others, U.S. and UN Look Set to Elect Female Leaders

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June 14, 2016 – Later this year, it looks likely that both the United Nations and the United States will respectively elect female leaders. What is remarkable in both these instances is not that women will head both the world body and the world’s oldest democracy but that it will have taken both so long to elect a female leader.

Since its inception in 1945 eight men have held the post of secretary-general, despite UN agencies being at the forefront of advocating for gender equality. But five of the nine current candidates for the post are women and it appears that, more out of a sense of embarrassment than real commitment to gender equality, that the P5 members of the Security Council will nominate one of the five women for the post.

In the case of the United States, all 44 presidents have been men while women have never represented more than 20 percent of elected members of congress, far less for women of color. Only 35 women have ever served in the US Senate.

If elected, Hillary Clinton will be one of some twenty women who are currently either president or prime minster of a UN member state. In total, almost 70 women have served as president or prime minister. Presidents are typically elected directly while prime ministers take office as head of a party that has won the most seats in an election.

Below is a list of current female presidents or prime minsters of UN member states followed by lists of past female presidents and prime ministers, followed by the year first elected. A number in brackets indicates the number of women to hold the post of president or prime minister for a particular country.

Current Female Leaders:

Germany – Chancellor Angela Merkel 
Liberia – President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson 
Bangladesh – Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina
Lithuania – President Dalia Grybauskaite
South Korea – President Park Geun-hye
Brazil – President Dilma Rouseff
Slovenia – Prime Minister Alenka Brautsek
Norway – Prime Minister Erna Solberg
Chile – President Michelle Bachelet
Malta – President Marie-Louise Coleiro
Poland – Prime Minister Beata Szydło
Croatia – President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic
Namibia – Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila
Mauritius - President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim
Nepal – President Bidhya Devi Bhandari
Marshall Islands – President
 Hilda Heine

Past Female Presidents:

Argentina 1974 (2)
Iceland 1980
Malta 1982
Philippines 1986 (2)
Nicaragua 1990
Ireland 1990 (2, only country where a woman has succeeded another as president)
Sri Lanka 1994
Guyana 1997
Switzerland 1999 (6 [one year terms])
Latvia 1999
Panama 1999
Finland 2000
Indonesia 2001
Serbia 2002
Liberia 2006
Chile 2006 (2)
Kyrgyzstan 2010
Costa Rica 2010
Malawi 2014
Central African Republic 2014 (interim)
Senegal 2014

Prime Ministers

Sri Lanka 1960 (3)
India 1966
Israel 1969
CAR 1975
UK 1979
Dominica 1980
Norway 1981 (3)
Yugoslavia 1982
Pakistan 1988
Bangladesh 1991
Poland 1992
Turkey 1992
New Zealand 1997
Senegal 2001
Sao Tome 2002
Mozambique 2004
Ukraine 2005
Jamaica 2006 (2)
South Korea 2006
Haiti 2008 (2)
Iceland 2009
Croatia 2009
Australia 2010
Finland 2010
Slovakia 2010
Thailand 2011
Slovenia 2011

Trinidad 2011
Denmark 2011
Jamaica  2006 (2)
Latvia 2014

UN Should Focus More on Preventing War, Not Making War Safer for Women

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Oct. 14, 2015 –  In the fifteen years since the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 on women, peace & security, the world has become far more violent and the impact of armed conflict on women is far greater than when the landmark text was adopted.

The Global Study on Resolution 1325, released on Tuesday, notes that peacekeeping, with a $9 billion annual budget, could now be considered the core mandate of the United Nations, whereas back in 2000, the UN “was primarily seen as a development organization.”

It is against this backdrop of increasing militarization since 2001 – which includes the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Syrian conflict, the rise of groups such as ISIS and Boko Haram, alarming reports of sexual violence in South Sudan and Darfur, attacks on school girls, girls schools and female teachers in Afghanistan and the shift of resources away from development to peace operations – that the United Nations is taking stock of its women, peace and security agenda.

The 1325 resolution consists of three pillars – protection of women, participation of women in peace processes, and conflict prevention - and it is the latter that is an increasing focus of civil society advocates. A recent paper from Oxfam notes that Resolution 2122, adopted in 2013, “helped close a gap in interpretation [of Res 1325] that previously focused entirely on the prevention of gender-based violence in conflict, rather than the prevention of conflict itself.” The goal should not be making war safer for women but preventing war.

Advocates are calling for a more holistic approach to the root causes and drivers of conflict which include social and economic inequalities and unequal access to resources and services as well as the structural barriers that are obstacles to women’s participation in conflict prevention, which may include child care, transportation and personal safety.

The Global Study, whose lead author is Radhika Coomoraswamy, former UN envoy for children in armed conflict, states that “prevention and protection through nonviolent means should be emphasized more by the international system, and more resources should be dedicated to this endeavor.”

“If force is used, even for the protection of civilians, there must be clarity and clear, attainable objectives,” it adds. “Conflict prevention and resolution, as practiced today, continues to focus on neutralizing potential spoilers and perpetrators of violence, rather than investing in resources for peace.”

It may be time for the UN to return to making development its core mandate and shifting some of the $9 billion it invests in peacekeeping to investing in preventing conflict.

- Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

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Jan 6, 2015 – The Security Council, as well as UN officials and member states, lack commitment to the women, peace and security agenda.

A new policy brief from the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security notes while there has been improvement in some country situations and in thematic agenda items, overall there is “inconsistency in the Council’s discussion of gender…from the information provided by the UN system, to the discussion in the Council, to the action taken and to implementation on the ground.”

Security Council Resolution 1325, which will mark its 15th anniversary this year, recognized the different ways conflict affects men and women and the important roles both have to play in peace and security. In particular, it calls for the participation of women in peace processes, the protection of women and girls from sexual and gender-based violence, and the prevention of violence against women through gender equality, accountability and justice.

The policy brief, which examines the 2013/14 Council, states that the 15-nation body has not “truly internalized” the women, peace and security (WPS) agenda.

“When considering crisis situations in countries that have peacekeeping or political mandates, the Council rarely addressed WPS concerns… Similarly, briefings from senior UN officials included reference to WPS inconsistently, regardless of the inclusion of WPS in the mandate on which they were briefing,” the paper says.

It adds that while the Council has strengthened the language of several peacekeeping mandates with regard to WPS, this is not matched by financial and human resources. It also says that on-the-ground missions are failing to consult local civil society organizations “despite being well connected and established in their area.”

“Further, there is often a gender-blind approach to civil society engagement; engagement with women’s organizations is not referenced or identified as a priority. Despite some gains, civil society and women human rights defenders are
increasingly targeted, and their rights impinged upon with little official Council recognition of the need for better protective mechanisms,” it says.

While the protection of women in armed conflict is receiving greater attention from the Council, this is still a massive gulf in the number of men and women participating in peace negotiation teams.

Overall the UN system, the Security Council, and all Member States must more consistently address WPS issues across their work in order to meet their obligations, the paper concludes, and it outlines a number of recommendations, including stronger efforts to ensure accountability matched by greater leadership efforts by UN actors, and that Ban Ki-moon’s special envoys and representatives report explicitly on the implementation of the WPS components of their mandates.

Less than 20 percent of the more than 100 personal and special representatives, envoys and advisors appointed by Ban Ki-moon are women while about one-third of his senior cabinet are women.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image/UN Photo

Related Story: The UN’s Poor Record on Gender Equality