His Excellency Ban Ki-Moon
Secretary-General of the United Nations
3 United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017
AIDS-Free World is both exhilarated and watchful in the wake of this month’s resolution to create a new United Nations women’s agency.
You and your staff have been anticipating and preparing for this moment for almost three years. Your actions now will help determine the success or failure of this agency.
You have the opportunity to part ways with old, flawed UN systems, and usher in a new era of transparency, equity and effectiveness.
The leader of the women’s agency will either continue the UN tradition of declawed proclamations and halfbaked interventions concerning women’s issues, or she will galvanize the world by actually listening to women, and providing the wherewithal for real change.
The brave and correct way to identify the Under Secretary-General is to get rid of the entrenched, unwritten rules that now govern the process of selecting many (albeit not all) of the UN’s leaders. Governments, predominantly donor nations, lay claim to UN funds and programs, and proffer candidates behind closed doors for the Secretary-General’s consideration. These ways have never served women. We should not select our top international civil servants according to political expedience. The world would be shocked to learn that the UN, with all its talk about good governance, runs on a system of lobbying and patronage.
It is time to break the pattern. We strongly encourage you to ensure that both the selection process and the new Under Secretary-General meet some basic standards.
First and foremost, candidates must be selected through a global search and an open, fair, transparent process that pays particular attention to qualified candidates from developing countries. Preferential consideration should not be given to UN insiders. Women do not need a leader who has learned to accept the UN’s shortcomings and play by its unspoken rules. She must be frankly skeptical of calcified systems that do not serve half the world’s citizens. If there were women within the system with the capability to change it, they would have done so already.
The new Under Secretary-General must be able to conceptualize and transform the current pathetic mechanisms for gender mainstreaming throughout the UN system. Along with being a brilliant fundraiser and a creative strategist, she must be able to build an agency that can run programs and actually work, not just give advice, in every country on earth. She must have excellent connections with the global women’s movement.
With the right Under Secretary-General, you will be able to create, in the new agency, a powerful and effective global force that will affect all women everywhere. While we understand that the current UN entities dealing with women’s issues (the Office of the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women, the Division for the Advancement of Women and the United Nations Development Fund for
Women) will be folded into the new agency, it must be much, much more than a cobbled together amalgam of second-tier entities.
Folding these four entities into the new agency should be simply the start of a process that builds a much more far-reaching organization. The new agency must exist to serve the world’s women, not to be a repository for UN staff who need to be placed into new jobs. It must be much more than a simple amalgamation.
The four existing entities had 221 million dollars as their combined 2008 budget. The new agency must have at least a billion dollars. It must be able to accomplish concrete tasks all over the world. Its programs and governance structures must draw upon the expertise of the global women’s movement. Without all these, it is doomed to failure.
Over the decades, while the United Nations failed in its stated duty to half the world’s population, women have accomplished incredible feats without UN support. From women in Africa working out innovative ways to care for the tens of millions left sick and orphaned by AIDS, to grandmothers in Argentina demanding international attention for their disappeared loved ones, they have shown inspired, creative leadership. But every gain has been hard won, and real equity, equality and parity are still distant goals. If the UN actually supports the women who have achieved so much against such odds, there is no limit to the possibilities.
We urge you to recognize that it is not just that the women of the world need the UN; the UN desperately needs the women of the world to resuscitate its legitimacy, and bring real change to its ossified systems. Under the leadership of a dynamic, objective and passionate Under Secretary-General, the women’s agency has the potential to completely transform the way the UN does business. As Secretary-General of the United Nations, this is your moment to begin this transformation.
Paula Donovan and Stephen Lewis
Co-Directors, AIDS-Free World