Choose a woman to lead the UN!

UN leaders and experts have sent an Open Letter to each member of the UN Security Council asking for the selection of a woman and gender equality champion as the next UN Secretary-General.

Anne Marie Goetz
21 July 2016

People who know the UN well have written to the members of the Security Council, urging them to select a woman as the next Secretary-General.  An Open Letter (text below) from the Campaign to Select a Woman for the Next UN Secretary-General has been signed by 45 UN leaders and by experts on the UN. The signatories include individuals who have served the UN as leaders of UN peacekeeping missions, senior executives and directors in the UN’s funds and agencies, envoys and special rapporteurs, and representatives of member states that have served in their national missions to the UN.  Prominent academics and experts on the UN are included too.


United Nations hall of past and present Secretary-Generals. Credit: Andrea Izzotti/Shutterstock.com

The Security Council meets this week for its first informal ‘straw poll’ to clarify the preferences of its members on the current set of 12 candidates. The ‘straw poll’ is a method to avoid early and divisive use of the veto by encouraging some candidates and making it clear whether others stand no chance.  The letter insists that the time is more than ripe for the selection of a woman, given the fact that there has never been one in the UN’s past and that in the current gender-balanced candidate list, there is a rich choice of qualified women. The letter also insists that the selection should prioritize a woman with a track record on gender equality.  The choice of a feminist woman will send a vitally important signal of the UN’s commitment to adapting itself to the challenges of the 21st century.

The full text of the letter, and the list of signatories, is reproduced here. The letter remains open for signature from UN leaders and experts until the last Security Council meeting to evaluate candidates.


Your Excellency;    

All who have signed this letter are current or former senior officials of or scholars and experts on the United Nations, committed as you are to an effective organization, responsive and well-led, as we address the daunting challenges before us. 

The selection of the next Secretary-General is a critical choice for the UN and the world.   We share your commitment to find the best candidate -- an experienced diplomat, skillful manager, thoughtful mediator and compelling speaker and advocate, a leader of stature who can represent the UN to the world at its best, work well with Member States and embody the core UN principles of peace, justice, development and human rights.

Your choice will send a dramatic message to the world.  To that end, we urge you to select a woman with all the qualities above and, as well, a demonstrated and sustained commitment to gender equality.  After seventy years and eight male leaders in succession, the choice of a woman would send a signal of transformation and would be an important step in correcting a gender bias of many decades.  It will galvanize renewed action to implement existing commitments to women's rights and opportunities. It may bring different approaches to UN leadership and new perspectives to the immense challenges of global governance today. It would renew and inspire interest and support of the UN from the larger public.

Among the declared candidates you have a number of outstanding women. We urge you to select one of them to be the next Secretary-General.  We are joined in this hope by millions of dedicated NGOs, many Member States, the Elders and many other world leaders.  Thank you for your consideration.  We look forward to your decision.

Please accept the assurances of our respect and support,


Philip Alston

Special Rapporteur Extreme Poverty and Human Rights;

John Norton Pomeroy

Professor of Law, Co-Chair, Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, New York University

Fionnuala Ni Aolain

Professor of Law, Transnational Justice Institute, Ulster University

Radhika Balakrishnan

Faculty Director, Center for Women’s annGlobal Leadership, Rutgers University

Marie Louise Baricako

United Nations High Level Panel on Peace Operations

Karima Bennoune 

Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights

Charlotte Bunch

Founding Director, Center for Women’s Global Leadership, Rutgers University

Naomi Cahn

Professor, George Washington University Law School

Patrick Cammaert

Former Military Admiral, Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and Police Force Commander

Roxanna Carrillo

Chief Policy and Planning, Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO)

Judy Cheng-Hopkins

Assistant Secretary-General, Peacebuilding Support Office

Anwarul K. Chowdhury

Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the United Nations, 2002-2007; President of the United Nations Security Council, March 2000 and June 2001

Blanche Wiesen Cook

Distinguished Professor at John Jay College and the Graduate Center in the City University of New York

Kathleen Cravero

Director, Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); Currently President of Oak Foundation

Bruce Cronin

Chair, Department of Political Science at the City College of New York

Krishanti Dharmaraj

Executive Director, Center for Women’s Global Leadership, Rutgers University

Michael W. Doyle

Special Advisor, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Planning

Hugh T. Dugan

United States Delegate

Frederic Eckhard

United Nations Spokesperson

Anne Marie Goetz, PhD

Chief Advisor, Peace and Security, UNIFEM and UN Women (2005 - 2014); Currently Clinical Professor, New York University  

Noeleen Heyzer

Under-Secretary-General, 2007-2015

Michelle Jarvis

Principal Legal Council, Office of the Prosecutor (OTP), International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY)

Angela Kane

Under-Secretary-General, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs

Jean Krasno, PhD

Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership, City College of New York and longtime UN scholar

Michiko Kuroda

Senior Policy Officer; Former Chief of Staff, United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET)/United Nations Integrated Mission in East Timor-Leste (UNOTIL)(UNMIT)

Elisabeth Lindenmayer

Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Chief of Staff to the Secretary-General

Carolyn McAskie

Assistant Secretary-General, Peacebuilding Support Office

Youssef Mahmoud

Senior Advisor, International Peace Institute, New York; Former Under-Secretary-General, former Special Representative

Saraswath Menon

Director, Policy Division, UN Women

Craig Murphy

Betty Freyhold Johnson ’44 Professor of Political Science, Wellesley College

Valerie Oosterveld

Faculty of Law, University of Western Ontario

F. John Packer

Professor and Director, Human Rights Research and Education Center, University of Ottawa; Member of the UN Standby Team of Mediation Experts 2012-2014

Richard J. Ponzio

Senior Policy Analyst, Peacebuilding Support Office

Shazia Rafi

Former Secretary-General, Parliamentarians for Global Action

Dr. Bob Reinalda

Radboud University Nijmegen, Netherlands/IO BIO, Biographical Dictionary of Secretaries-General of International Organizations

Diana Rivington

Former Chair, OECD-DAC Working Party on Gender Equality; Director, Gender Equality, CIDA

Dr. Nafis Sadik

Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

Rakhi Sahi

Security Advisor for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam

Rima Salah

United Nations High Level Panel on Peace Operations, Deputy Special Representative for the Secretary-General for Chad and Central African Republic

Joanne Sandler

Deputy Executive Director, UNIFEM

Dubravka Šimonović

Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Its Causes and Consequences

Laura Shepherd, PhD

UNSW Australia

Margaret Snyder, PhD

Founding Director, UNIFEM

Gillian Sorensen

Assistant Secretary-General

Kristen Timothy

Deputy Director, Division for the Advancement of Women

Yana van der Meulen Rodgers

Professor, Rutgers University

Get 50.50 emails Gender and social justice, in your inbox. Sign up to receive openDemocracy 50.50's monthly email newsletter.


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData