Help Democratise the UN Secretary-General: Take Action Today!
The United Nations recently announced the launch of a process to appoint a new Secretary-General (SG) for the term beginning in 2022.
This moment represents a crucial opportunity to raise our voices – not just to protest the betrayal of the promises contained in the UN Charter, but to show that there are solutions to the seemingly intractable problems that have been created.
COVID-19, a global crisis of historic proportions, has exposed the depths of the inequalities “between people and between nations” and the root causes of conflict identified by WILPF more than 100 years ago.
It is clear that the rhetoric commonly heard at the beginning of the pandemic – that we are “all in this together” – was, indeed, just that: rhetoric. Instead of building bridges, the pandemic has facilitated market opportunities for the privileged few to take advantage and for governments to roll back human rights, with a particularly violent impact on women.
For there to be redress, we need new leadership – and that new leadership can start with the Secretary-General of the United Nations.
It has never been more clear that in order to build back differently, to change the foundations upon which our current patriarchal structures rest, we need radical change – and new, feminist leadership.
What’s wrong with the current process?
In a word: Everything.
Currently, the UN Secretary-General is appointed by the UN General Assembly upon recommendation from the Security Council, which comprises five permanent members – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States – and ten elected members. Any of the five permanent members, also known as the P5, can veto a nomination for the Secretary-General.
As a group of states that continue to prioritise profit at the expense of human lives, including through massive investments in militarisation and arms proliferation, the Security Council has continuously recommended leaders willing to act on behalf of their self-serving interests rather than on behalf of “we the people”.
The current appointment process is anti-democratic at best and, at worst, prevents progress towards a future of peace, justice, and security.
What’s wrong with the current Secretary-General?
The current Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, has failed to deliver since his appointment in 2016. On his watch, the states that comprise the United Nations have repeatedly failed to uphold the principles of the UN Charter.
We have repeatedly seen his inaction in play: He failed to use the influence of his office to intervene in human rights abuses in Myanmar and stop the country’s descent into civil war following last year’s military coup. He failed to engage women in peace talks in Afghanistan. He failed to unite countries in a coordinated response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The list goes on.
He has spoken of the need for action, but it is deeds, not words, that will make a difference.
If Guterres does indeed retain his position, then he must prove that he is not just the leader the P5 of the UN Security Council wants and needs. He must be prepared to stand up to them so as to restore the UN as an organisation established to bring peace. We will not hold our breath!
If we are to truly build back differently, we must call for a new election process that ensures every Secretary-General acting on behalf of the people truly represents the people.
The actions of the Secretary-General affect us all. It is under the SG’s watch that the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda is implemented – or not. It is the SG who appoints the head of UN Women. It is the SG who has the power to take action – or not – when peace is under threat and lives are at risk.
And it is the SG who holds the ability to demand a different, better path forward, for the UN and for the world.
Join us: Demand change and a new, feminist leader
The world needs a feminist leader to guide us in a better, bolder direction. A leader who embodies and upholds feminist values and principles. Who is committed to the pursuit of equality, justice, and security for people and the planet. Who prioritises the collective well-being of all living things over power and profit. Who doesn’t only speak, but acts.
We can begin working towards feminist leadership by demanding that the current SG take action on key items within his mandate – actions that are in accordance with the role of the SG as laid out in the Charter. These include:
- Internal reform. Whilst there are now more women in senior positions, this is a start only; it is not about numbers, but about reform of the rigidly hierarchical structure of the UN and the internal culture.
- Address the imbalance of funding to counterterrorism and militarised peacekeeping by influencing resource allocation.
- Prioritise policies which embody human rights and environmental protection.
- Ensure that the UN agencies and envoys actually implement (and report on the implementation of) the WPS resolutions by securing the effective and consequential participation of women in the countries on the UNSC agenda.
- Engage in direct and public intervention at critical junctures (such as the circumstances in Myanmar where an SG visit, or even a demand for a visit, could have made a difference).
- Take direct action on ceasefires and disarmament more generally.
- Appoint envoys who understand the importance of gendered conflict analysis and inclusion.
The list is long. Over the next few months WILPF will be consulting with partners and members and formalising demands of the next SG. In the interim, we are calling for a new appointment process that will ensure truly representative leadership.
What can you do?
Change is only possible when we collectively raise our voices.
We all have a role to play in demanding a new, democratic process for the appointment of the UN Secretary-General that will ensure the next SG is working for the people – not the UN Security Council.
You can join the movement to demand better – for the world, for all of us, and for future generations – by getting involved today.
You can :
- Download our campaign assets and share your thoughts on social media using the hashtag #4feministUNSG.
- Nominate someone you would like to be considered for the role of Secretary-General.
- Write op-eds and blog posts, host webinars, record podcasts, and organise letter-writing campaigns (make sure to let us know using the form below!).
- Learn about the key issues requiring urgent attention, including six basic principles for a post-COVID-19 recovery published in the report Feminist Principles for an International Post-COVID-19 Settlement.
You can also learn more about the selection process and deepen your involvement through the following organisations:
- Forward is an initiative intended to bring civil society into the process of selecting the next UN Secretary-General.
- 1 for 7 Billion is a collective of more than 750 organisations and 170 million supporters worldwide calling for a better process to select the UN Secretary-General.