New UN chief, new priorities

Secretary-General António Guterres (second from left) participates in a Facebook Live conversation on achieving gender equality through activism and action. ©UN Photo/Mark Garten

Ryan Rappa

On March 28, 2018, the Security Council held an open debate on “Collective Action to Improve UN Peacekeeping Operations,” with the participation of the Secretary-General. In honor of the debate, CIC is publishing three posts this week cut from an advance version of its 2017 Annual Global Peace Operations Review. In these posts, CIC data specialist Ryan Rappa assesses the trends we observed in data on peace operations for 2017—a pivotal year for the international system, as the U.S. and the UN both saw leadership changes. The first article looked at trends in peacekeeping, the second article examined trends in special political missions, and this third article focuses on the trends in the gender of UN senior staff, including field staff — all in light of the larger geopolitical context.

New UN chief, new priorities

Like any UN leader, Secretary-General António Guterres can only do so much to address the challenges discussed in my first two posts this week on peacekeeping and political missions. Since taking office in January 2017, he has been hit with unprecedented funding headwinds, friction in the Security Council, and more. The Secretary-General is somewhat less impeded, however, when it comes to senior appointments – and here we have seen early signs of another dramatic realignment, toward gender parity in senior leadership at the UN.

In a substantial shift from his predecessors, the Secretary-General took the opportunity to appoint more women (36) than men (31) in 2017 to Under-Secretary-General (USG) and Assistant Secretary-General (ASG) positions, the senior-most ranks of the UN. The Secretary-General argued that “gender parity at the United Nations is an urgent need and a personal priority...a moral duty and an operational necessity.”

This progress notwithstanding, there is still a way to go in order to achieve gender parity among senior officials. The number of men and women among senior officials in office at the end of 2017 is broken down below by all senior officials (first two columns on the left), USGs only (middle two columns), and ASGs only (last two columns on the right).

Sources: United Nations; Center on International Cooperation
 

The progress made by the Secretary-General on more equitable appointments also belies a still-considerable lack of women in leadership in the field. Among all heads and deputy heads of field-based missions led by DPKO, DPA, and the Department of Field Support (DFS), women currently account for 17 out of 53 leaders in office, or 32 percent.

Sources: United Nations; Center on International Cooperation
 

By one measure, however, we have seen progress on gender parity backslide in 2017. When looked at in terms of budget dollars overseen by female USGs, the Guterres administration has yet to hit the bar set by Ban Ki-moon at the end of his term in December 2016.

Sources: United Nations; Center on International Cooperation
 

This graph shows the combined budgets overseen by male and female USGs at the 10 largest USG-led agencies, as of December 2013, December 2016, and December 2017 (based on 2016 budgets). Among these agencies, women were leading the WFP, UNDP, and UNOPS in 2016. Now, women are at the helm of UNICEF, UNFPA, and UNOPS.

Of course, the Secretary-General has been in office just over a year. There will be more opportunities for progress on every aspect of gender parity, such as upcoming leadership changes at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and other UN entities. It will be interesting to see whether the Secretary-General keeps up the relatively fast pace of female appointments he set in 2017.

 

Update: On March 28, 2018,  Secretary-General António Guterres announced the appointment of Rosemary DiCarlo of the United States to lead the Department of Political Affairs (DPA). She will be the first woman to ever take the high-level post. This means that female Under-Secretaries-General (USGs), collectively, will now oversee roughly $620 million more in annual UN spending. The totals now stand around $7.2 billion for female USGs and $25.7 billion for male USGs.