A strong push to see a woman as the next U.N. secretary-general

U.N. Secretary-General candidates Kristalina Georgiva and Irina Bokova.

Candidates considering taking over as head of the United Nations will meet with the president of the General Assembly. Six candidates have declared their intention to run for U.N. secretary-general. While determining the leader of the international body is always important, this year there is heightened attention as a woman may finally take the post.

A campaign was launched in February 2015 to support a woman as the ninth secretary-general. Discussions are intensifying as the end of current Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s term is over at the end of the year. Former New Mexico governor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson wrote an OpEd in the Washington Post endorsing a woman to serve as “the planet’s next diplomat-in-chief.”

“With so many capable female candidates with great political, diplomatic and U.N. experience, there is just no excuse for the U.S. and the other members of the Security Council to once again neglect half of the planet when choosing our future U.N. secretary-general,” he wrote.

The next secretary-general will likely come from an Eastern European country. Leadership is determined based on an informal regional rotation. Two of the leading candidates happen to be women from Bulgaria: Irina Bokova and Kristalina Georgieva. It is a unique situation given that governments usually back one candidate. Bokova, the current head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), garnered initial support, but that may be shifting following political changes in the country.

Georgieva is currently the vice president of the European Commission. Her experience at the World Bank and as the European Union Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid makes her a strong candidate for the organization at a time when global humanitarian needs are growing. It also might help that she supposedly has support from staff inside the U.N.

It is possible that the push for a woman may lead to a break from the regional tradition. Names like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former prime minister of New Zeland Helen Clark are making the rounds. Merkel has been a strong proponent of the humanitarian support of Syrian refugees and faces a changing political tide that may turn against her. But there is little reason to believe she will leave Germany for the U.N.

It is believed that Ban’s replacement will be picked around September when the U.N. General Assembly gathers for its annual meetings in New York. The Security Council will consider the candidates and put forward a choice upon which the General Assembly will vote. The opaque process is the cause for the gender-based campaign by outsiders.

“We want the best candidate. But I like the fact that after eight men, there is a leaning towards a woman,” said Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, former high commissioner for human rights, in an interview with Euractiv. “In women’s and girls’ eyes, the symbolic empowerment of a woman top official, with responsibilities in peace, stability and development, is fundamental. It has a great psychological impact.”


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.