Global Policy Associate, International Center for Research on Women
UN Secretary-General António Guterres took office in January 2017 following unprecedented public and member-state pressure for female, feminist leadership of the United Nations. Throughout his first year, this pressure has persisted – largely from women’s civil society groups and feminist activists. One of these groups is the Feminist UN Campaign, which brings together leading feminist thinkers from civil society, philanthropy, academia and former UN staff around a shared agenda for women’s rights and gender equality at the UN.
Last autumn, prior to Guterres’s appointment, the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) published a report on behalf of the Feminist UN Campaign, directing recommendations to various levels of the UN system where progress on gender equality has been slow or non-existent, including financing for gender equality and parity in leadership and staffing. Once Guterres had been selected, we adapted our recommendations into a proposed agenda for his first 100 days in office, which would send a strong signal of his commitment to improving women’s rights and gender equality throughout the UN system (see the box on page 14).
Since then, the Feminist UN Campaign has closely monitored his progress against this agenda, and on his 100th day in office, released a report card assessing his advancements during this period. The Campaign found that, while transformative change had not been realised in this narrow window of time, the Secretary-General had made several public commitments on issues from gender parity to tackling gender-based violence, and was beginning to establish a solid foundation on which to build progress. We gave him an ‘A-’ overall.
As the end of Secretary-General Guterres’s first year approaches, the Feminist UN Campaign is preparing to publish its second report card. To ensure a comprehensive assessment of the Secretary-General’s progress to date, the Campaign has issued a survey to capture feedback from feminist voices around the world, and ICRW researchers will be conducting a qualitative analysis of interviews with experts on advancing women’s rights and gender mainstreaming inside and outside of the UN system. The content of the Secretary-General’s reports and speeches will also be analysed, along with any new initiatives and commitments he has launched since his term began.
Our efforts reflect civil society’s call for feminist leadership, increased accountability and transparency at the UN. While commitments to gender equality are frequently made, they are often not matched by effective action. For instance, gender equality remains largely underfunded across UN programmes, member states’ official development assistance and national budgets.
To ensure high marks, Secretary-General Guterres must call on member states and UN stakeholders to hold themselves accountable and advance gender equality and women’s rights under their own purview. He must model feminist leadership in support of equality and justice not only within the UN, but worldwide. And as advocates, researchers, analysts and movement-builders, we must be ready to laud progress when it is made, and to encourage action where it is absent. Working together, we believe we can achieve a more feminist United Nations and world.
Photos: UN Women offers training sessions to internally displaced persons living at a ‘protection of civilians’ site in Juba run by the UN Mission in South Sudan, 2016 © UN Photo/JC McIlwaine