Is it time for a woman to lead the United Nations?
At a private working lunch, the five most powerful members of the United Nations Security Council discussed the next U.N. secretary-general.
The selection process for U.N. chief has remained secretive and almost completely male. A European ambassador reminded colleagues of a January 1946 General Assembly resolution that says a "man of eminence and high attainment" should hold the post.
Perhaps, the ambassador suggested, they should add "or a woman." No doubt. Just three female candidates have been included in the Security Council's past closed-door votes and straw polls, but two campaigns are launching to make the next "Your excellency" a she.
"There have been eight men and no women. To me, it's time," said Jean Krasno, a lecturer at Yale who leads the new Campaign to Elect a Woman Secretary-General.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will remain in office through Dec. 31, 2016, but his successor is under discussion, with U.N. watchers even scrutinizing the handwriting on paper ballots after Security Council straw polls. Ban's successor is expected to be chosen late next year.
The campaign will launch WomanSG.org to feature outstanding possible women candidates with political experience. Every few weeks, another group of potential candidates will be posted online.
Next month, the international women's rights group Equality Now will launch the Time for a Woman campaign, urging the public to pressure the U.N. and member states to make "gender a serious consideration for the first time," said the group's legal adviser, Antonia Kirkland.
They point out women such as Helen Clark, former New Zealand prime minister and the head of the U.N. Development Program; Bulgarian European commissioner Kristalina Georgieva; Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite; Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, and Chilean President Michelle Bachelet.
"And obviously, you could have some sort of dream thoughts around (German Chancellor) Angela Merkel," said Laura Liswood, the secretary-general of the Council of Women World Leaders.
Also proposed is International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde, though as a Frenchwoman, she is likely a long shot. The United States, Britain, France, Russia and China are permanent council members and traditionally candidates from their' countries are not considered.
Women's organizations from around the world are assembling at the U.N. for this week's meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women and side events featuring Hillary Rodham Clinton and Melinda Gates. "More women are leading businesses, governments and global organizations. At the same time, progress remains unacceptably slow," Ban told the meeting Monday.
The world currently has fewer than 20 female heads of state and government, and women make up about a quarter of senior posts in the U.N. Secretariat. A female secretary-general "will be a cherry on top," said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, who heads the U.N. agency promoting equality for women.
Traditionally regions, such as Africa or Asia, take turns having someone in the top post, though the U.N. Charter doesn't mention it. This time would be the turn of eastern Europe, which has never had anyone in the job. The Bulgarian head of the U.N. cultural agency, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, has a nomination from Bulgaria.
Many of the 193 U.N. member states say they have little voice in picking a secretary-general. The Security Council, dominated by its five permanent members and their veto power, essentially hands a single candidate to the General Assembly of all member states for its approval.
Enough, says the campaign 1 for 7 Billion, launched last year with the support of dozens of NGOs like Amnesty International. It wants more transparency and public input for the best candidate, "irrespective of his or her country of origin." While 1 for 7 Billion doesn't demand a female secretary-general, it points out that a woman has never held the job.
In February, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan joined with former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland in calling for a stronger United Nations and saying the council should make the secretary-general selection process more open and thorough in time for picking Ban's successor. Brundtland is one of three women ever voted on by the Security Council in its deliberations for U.N. chief.
"After eight 'he's' it's surely time for a 'she,'" they wrote in an opinion piece for The New York Times.
Critical thinking challenge: Why would a 1946 General Assembly resolution exclude women, saying a "man of eminence and high attainment" should lead the UN?