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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on November 29, 2018 in Buenos Aires ahead of the G20 summit. (ALBERTO RAGGIO/AFP/Getty Images)
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on November 29, 2018 in Buenos Aires ahead of the G20 summit. (ALBERTO RAGGIO/AFP/Getty Images)

‘Set the tone’

Women’s advocacy group awards U.N. leader a B-minus for gender equality

By WITW Staff on January 25, 2019

United Nations secretary general António Guterres is getting mixed reviews from feminists who say he has followed up, at least in part, on promises he made to reform the organization into one that upholds it’s self-professed ideals of gender equality.

“Do not let us in the U.N. off the hook,” said Guterres after he was chosen over seven women candidates to lead the organization in 2017. The International Center for Research on Women, an advocacy group that serves as a consultant for the U.N., has been doing its part to hold Guterres accountable. Last year, Guterres earned a C-plus grade for his efforts at improving gender equality within the U.N. This year, the group said, Guterres showed some improvement, but awarded him a B-minus due to concerns that his desire to reform the historically patriarchal body amounted more to words than actions.

“He has done a number of things he has said,” said the center’s director of policy, Lyric Thompson. “We believe the secretary-general has achieved considerable progress within the complex U.N. system at achieving real reforms to make the U.N. a better workplace for women and men alike.” But much more, she continued, remained to be done.

“What we want to see is the power of the pulpit,” she explained. “He has to set the tone that is going to be the agenda for the long haul. He is the male executive who is head of a system that he acknowledged is powered by patriarchy. It is going to take transformation of the entire system.”

One of the center’s chief complaint with Guterres stems from a larger issue within the U.N. — a gigantic bureaucracy that makes little effort at financial or even informational transparency. Without knowledge of how much money and resources the U.N. was actually putting into gender equality and women’s economic empowerment initiatives, the group warned, it was impossible to accurately evaluate whether the U.N. treated such issues as a priority. Another issue was Guterres failure to create an independent system to handle sexual harassment complaints by U.N. staff. Currently such issues are resolved internally by the U.N.’s Office of Internal Oversight and Services.

According to a recent survey of sexual harassment within the U.N. commissioned by Guterres, a third of respondents said they had experienced at least one incident of sexual harassment while at work.

Read the full story at The New York Times.

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