Let’s get you up to speed. United Nations Women is the combination of gender-equality initiatives within the UN, and works to oversee the operational activities “based on policy directions set by the General Assembly, ECOSOC, and the Commission on the Status of Women” (learn more about them here). The 56th Commission on the Status of Women recently happened, so while I’ve always had an ear to the ground in terms of the United Nations’ initiatives, in the past couple weeks I have been particularly thrilled with the presentations, talks, and events happening right now.
So, imagine my surprise to find that the Republic of Korea’s Ambassador to the UN, Kim Sook, a man, had just been named President of the Board of UN Women. Now, don’t get me wrong, the Republic of Korea has done some great work with the UN. But in regards to UN Women, one might hope or expect that the Board would recognize the relevance of appropriate and informed leadership. And maybe, you know, appoint a woman.
First of all, the UN is a vastly complex administrative labyrinth. It can be hard to always tell who is doing what, and how these subcommittees and institutions interact. Luckily, the directorate of UN Women is Michelle Bachelet, former President of Chile and incredible advocate for women and children. She remains the real leader of the group, with two deputies (one from India and one from Canada), and they handle the day-to-day work of this important subgroup.
But also, let’s take a little bit of a closer look here. Lakshmi Puri of India has a great track record of fighting for gender equality on a global scale, and will contribute a lot of great work to the mission. John Hendra, while he doesn’t have much experience in terms of specific gender work, does have a strong development background, and can hopefully bring the necessary funds and publicity to the work of UN Women. I do think that men need to be involved in efforts to eradicate gender inequalities and help fight the systems that create unfair, illegal, and abusive policies impacting women.
So you might think that since the Board just oversees and manages the wieldy meetings, and doesn’t evaluate programs or policies, it isn’t a big deal.
But I still feel uneasy. We know that mentorship is important, and we know that if we want the number of women in leadership roles to grow, generations of girls need to see women leading these major programs and initiatives. They need to have role models who are exemplifying dedication and passion for their work, whatever it may be, and they need to see that these women are being recognized for their efforts and work.
It remains true that most of the people doing work in gender disparities are women. What kills me about this is that there are so many of them who are a part of the United Nations, who have done the groundwork in areas of gender equality, and who are great leaders in the field of international relations and diplomacy. None of them were available? Shouldn’t their efforts be rewarded with a role like that of the President of the Board – the Board of the branch of the UN that exists to support the very areas of gender equality that many of them have devoted their careers to?
It feels a bit like a missed opportunity, and I look forward to hearing more about the hard work that Bachelet and her team are performing.