September 2, 2016 (C-Fam) UN member States held a third straw poll on Monday to narrow the field of contenders for the office of UN Secretary-General. Ban Ki-Moon’s term expires at the end of the year. While social issues have fallen well behind geopolitical gamesmanship in the news coverage, they have not been entirely absent from the contest.
Of the six men and six women vying for the job, former Croatian foreign minister Vesna Pusić was the most outspoken about her feminism and support for LGBT rights. But she withdrew from the race after the first round of polling when she finished dead last. A few weeks later, former prime minister of Montenegro Igor Lukšić also dropped out.
There is widespread support for an Eastern European secretary-general, given that the region has not yet been represented in that position. Six of the remaining candidates, as well as the two prior contenders, are from that region.
There has also been vigorous campaigning for the new secretary-general to be a woman, another global first. Feminist groups were quick to add their stipulation that she should be a feminist as well.
The tone among some of the most outspoken advocates for a feminist secretary-general is one of disappointment. New York University Professor Anne Marie Goetz, writing for Open Democracy, expressed annoyance that only one woman made it into the top five in the first poll.
“The stern relegation of most of the women candidates to the bottom half of the list means we must ask if gender bias played a role,” the former UN Women staffer said. “The secrecy of the process makes it hard to know, though it is obvious that the Council ignored civil society petitions, pressure from 60 Member States, and an Open Letter signed by fifty UN experts and former leaders calling for the selection of a woman and feminist to lead the UN.”
The petition she cited, which was created by the Women’s Major Group, has gathered fewer than 1,500 signatures and was described on one feminist forum as “sorely sadly neglected.”
Goetz’s theme is what she perceives as “profound” gender bias at the UN, noting that it has no quota system in place to ensure parity.
Also writing for Open Democracy, Kavita Ramdas lamented last week that the influence of the permanent five members of the Security Council “has already led to elimination of all but the most non-controversial candidates.” Ten of the twelve candidates remain in the running, however, and UN social policy conservatives are still watching the race closely.
Those experts note that none of the candidates for secretary-general has a record as a champion of social conservative causes. They are hopeful, however, that given the recent history of the office their concerns will be represented best by a secretary-general who will keep to his or her mandate and avoid using “personal diplomacy”—and the platform afforded by such an exalted office— to advance novel interpretations of human rights on controversial issues.
The next straw poll is expected in September, amid growing cynicism from feminist groups about the prospect that they will finally have an advocate at the highest bureaucratic level of the UN.
Reprinted with permission from C-Fam.