Issue 152 - September 1 - Ban Prepares to Appoint Head of UN Women

New York, September 1, 2010 - On July 2, after almost five years of negotiations, the General Assembly adopted a Resolution officially establishing the United Nations entity for gender equality and the empowerment of women, known as UN Women. The search for the first Under-Secretary-General to lead the new body is almost complete. 

UN Women will carry out the functions of four existing UN agencies dealing with women's issues, and its creation has been part of the larger UN reform process known as System-wide Coherence.

The new USG is expected to begin work in October 2010 in preparation for UN Women to be operational by January 1, 2011.

Reportedly, the Secretary-General's office has been considering over 20 official nominees, and 11 candidates were interviewed last week. The Selection Panel was expected to forward its recommendations - a "shortlist" of three final candidates - to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last Friday, August 27.

The Secretary-General is understood to be consulting with Member States this week and is expected appoint a USG in the next few days, before the 65th GA session.  

Background - Creation of Gender Entity and USG Post

On September 14, 2009 Member States agreed to create a "composite entity" on gender equality and women's empowerment. Resolution A/63/311 called for the merging of the four existing UN women's organizations, namely the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), the Office of the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI), the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the UN International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW).

Member States discussed details of creating the entity from February until June 2010. The result of the GA's negotiations was Resolution A/64/L.56 of June 30, 2010, which detailed the selection process, term length, and mandate of the Under-Secretary-General.

It was agreed that:

  • The entity should "lead to more effective coordination, coherence and gender mainstreaming across the United Nations system;"
  • In addition to consolidating the mandates and functions of the 4 entities, UN women will have the role of "leading, coordinating and promoting the accountability of the United Nations system in its work on gender equality and women's empowerment"
  • A USG shall lead the entity, which will be governed by an Executive Board;
  • The USG will report to the Secretary-General and shall be a full member of the UN System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB);
  • The USG will have to authority to appoint the staff of the entity in accordance with UN Staff Regulations and while subject to oversight bodies;
  • The USG shall be appointed by the Secretary-General in consultation with Member States;
  • The USG will serve a term of four years with the possibility of renewal for one term;
  • The USG should "continue the existing practice of effective consultation with civil society organizations," which "play a vital role in promoting women's rights, gender equality and the empowerment of women;" and
  • The USG position will be funded from existing temporary assistance funds pending submission of revised budget to be submitted to the GA at its 65th Session.

The Secretary-General is expected to appoint a USG before the 65th Session of the General Assembly (which begins on September 14, 2010) in order to allow for a transitional period lasting until December 31, 2010.

Selection Criteria

Given the importance of recruiting a strong and well-qualified leader to head the new organization, civil society has advocated for several key criteria to be met. Notably, the Global Campaign for Gender Equality Architecture Reform (GEAR), which was very active in the formation of the Gender Entity, called on the Secretary-General in October 2009 to incorporate the following criteria.

  • A vision for and demonstrated commitment to meeting gender equality goals and securing women's human rights;
  • Experience in and passion for working on gender equality and women's empowerment/human rights, with a demonstrated interest in engaging with civil society, and particularly women's organizations;
  • Thorough understanding of the needs and interests of women at the local grassroots, both in the Global South and North, with a successful track record of concrete impact in the field;
  • Demonstrated and recognized leadership and integrity, including:
  • Collaborative working style and ability to build positive relationships with a wide range of partners;
  • Visible record of public advocacy for gender equality and women's human rights and empowerment; and
  • Readiness to be outspoken and independent in fulfilling the entity's mandates;
  • Track record in fundraising and proven skills in the management of complex organizations and developing strategy accordingly in a creative and effective manner;
  • Be politically astute and able to engage effectively with a wide range of key actors in international negotiations."

Ban responded to the GEAR campaign's recommendation letter in November 2009, writing:

"...Please rest assured that I intend to appoint a strong, dynamic, and capable leader through an open, transparent and rigorous recruitment process so that the incumbent will be well-suited to addressing the many challenges which will rest within the purview of the new gender entity."

On April 12, 2010 UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a Note Verbale calling for nominations from Member States and civil society. He stated that he did not intend to name a USG before the General Assembly had approved the resolution, but that a pre-selected list of candidates would help to accelerate the transition process.

In the preliminary call for nominations, the Secretary-General's office expands upon the November description and outlines criteria for the post. Candidates should have:

  • Proven knowledge of issues relating to gender equality and of the needs and human rights of women;
  • Ability to defend with force and conviction all dimensions pertaining to these questions within the UN system, as well as to governments, civil society organizations and the public;
  • Impeccable personal and professional integrity, an excellent political competence and a strong ability to engage with others;
  • Strategic vision and capacity to manage a complex organization, in particular, an organization undergoing a fundamental transition;
  • Ability to mobilize multiple forms of support on the part of various participating parties and other stakeholders;
  • Strong knowledge of the UN system and capacity to direct the steps to be taken so that the action guided by the system is more efficient and more coherent at all levels; and
  • Written and oral mastery of either English or French, with strong knowledge of the other.

 Appointment Process

Selection Panel

Ban's office set up a panel to review nominations and conduct interviews of candidates. The panel was chaired by the Deputy Secretary-General and includes USG-level representatives of the four UN women's agencies, as well as one "civil society representative," the identity of whom has not been disclosed to civil society groups.


The deadline for nominations was July 23, in order to allow for an appointment by mid-September.

Approximately 25 candidates came forward for the position, with approximately eleven of them believed to have been interviewed by the selection panel last week.


The panel reportedly has narrowed down the candidates to a shortlist of three people, with whom Ban is meeting this week.

In anticipation of Ban's meetings with the finalists, the GEAR campaign sent him candidate questions for possible inclusion:

  • What is your vision for UN Women? What do you think should be its key priorities?
  • How will UN Women be a champion and strong driving force for gender mainstreaming, women's human rights and women's empowerment throughout the UN system?
  • Considering that UN Women is expected to become a powerful voice for women and girls at the global, regional and local levels, what mechanisms do you think the entity should put in place for consulting, supporting, and ensuring the meaningful participation of civil society at large and women in all their diversity, particularly women's organizations from the grassroots to the international level?
  • Where would you like UN Women to be in ten years? What would you like to see at that time as its three main contributions to advancing gender equality, women's human rights, and women's empowerment?

Decision by Secretary-General

The USG is appointed by the SG in consultation with Member States, per the GA's July Resolution. Therefore, Ban will be responsible for making the final decision. Ban is expected to meet with regional groups this week, so as to fulfill the requirement of "consultation with Member States."

"Cloaked in Secrecy"

In an open letter dated May 21, 2010, AIDS-Free World (AFW) wrote to the Secretary-General seeking increased transparency in the appointment process. AFW cites previous correspondence with the office of the Deputy Secretary-General, Asha-Rose Migiro, in which Migiro committed to greater transparency on several occasions.

On October 13 and October 29, 2009 as well as March 9, 2010, the DSG's office repeatedly pledged that it would consult civil society and engage in constructive dialogues with non-governmental organizations in the coming months. Despite these promises, however, AFW writes to Ban, "Although the selection process has begun, we have been unable to identify the Secretariat's efforts to involve civil society or to find candidates through an open process. We respectfully ask for an explanation of the selection process."

AFW observes that the Secretary-General's lack of communication on the selection process had contributed to an environment of uncertainty and speculation throughout civil society and the UN itself:

"Various sources report second-hand that women have been named as candidates, and that interviews are taking place. Faith in your solemn commitments to an open, transparent process is being eroded by uncertainty and suspicion.... Like so many of our colleagues within the global women's movement, we are concerned about the current atmosphere."

Rather than the "fair, open and transparent" process that was promised, AFW writes that the process "appears closed to civil society and women leaders outside government and UN circles, and cloaked in the secrecy that has characterized the processes... throughout the United Nations' history.... As you yourself have acknowledged, Mr. Secretary-General, this is an instance in which UN business as usual would be a terrible disservice to the world's women."

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