Despite Headway towards Gender Parity among Professional Staff, Progress Remains Slow in Field, Secretary-General Tells Friends Group, Outlining Steps for Advancement

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the Group of Friends on Gender Parity Marking the fifth Anniversary of the Gender Parity Strategy, in New York today:

Let me start by thanking this Group of Friends for your support in pushing the needle towards gender parity.  Achieving gender parity throughout the Organization was a key priority in my first term and it remains a key priority in the second.

Gender inequality is essentially a question of power.  Our male-dominated world and male-dominated culture damage both men and women.  And to transform power relations, we need equality between men and women in leadership, decision-making and participation at all levels.

Achieving gender parity is not only a personal priority, it is a strategic goal for the Organization.  And it’s vital for the United Nations to represent the values it stands for — the values enshrined in the Charter — and to lead by example.

Gender parity in our personnel is the only way to achieve gender equality in our work.  The five-year anniversary of my System-wide Strategy on Gender Parity is an opportunity to take stock on how far we have come towards meeting the ambitious goal of parity at all levels at Headquarters and in the field by 2028.

Overall, we have come a long way.  In the past five years, we have achieved a series of notable “firsts”.  We reached gender parity among our senior leadership for the first time in the United Nations history in 2020 — two years ahead of our target date.  We are talking about almost 200 senior leaders in the Organization.  We have also reached parity among heads and deputy heads of peace operations. Five years ago, the proportion of women in those roles was just 25 per cent.

We reached parity among our 130 resident coordinators in 2018.  And we have also increased geographical diversity among resident coordinators, who now come from 56 countries from all regions of the world and we are putting gender and regional diversity together, to reflect the people we serve.  The representation of women at headquarters locations has now reached parity.  And the number of United Nations entities with at least 50 per cent women staff has risen from 5 to 26.

At the same time, gaps remain.  In the field, progress has been slow, and in some cases, we have gone backwards.  We should be particularly concerned by a decrease in women recruited into entry-level Secretariat positions in the field.  This could have a serious impact on prospects for parity in the future.

At the current rate of progress, the Secretariat as a whole is forecast to be close to parity in professional staff in 2025 — three years before the deadline.  But, this aggregate figure disguises the fact that in the field, we are unlikely to reach parity at any level by 2028.

So the next phase of implementing the Gender Parity Strategy must therefore focus on advancing and sustaining progress in the field.  We will continue to support the Senior Women Talent Pipeline, which has led to the appointment of nearly 60 senior women, mostly in the field, since 2014.  We have now opened up the pipeline to new candidates and will aim to further increase the regional diversity of appointees.

We will also work to increase the number of women on rosters, and on facilitating the transition of General Service staff and National Officers to the Professional categories.  And this is an area that requires the approval of the General Assembly and I count on this group of friends to be very active in that regard because it is a key instrument to get women in professional positions in the field.

Moving beyond the numbers, gender parity is also about transforming our organizational culture.  If we fail to address stereotypes and biases in the workplace; if we tolerate a sexist, racist or discriminatory work environment — we will fail the people we serve.

We have important tools to support our efforts.  The Enabling Environment Guidelines for the United Nations system, and the field-specific guidelines produced by UN Women, provide recommendations on creating a working environment that is respectful, inclusive and diverse.  This is essential to retain women staff, particularly in the field where working conditions are most difficult.

I am also pleased to see positive changes to support gender parity in our wider working environment.  I welcome the decision of the International Civil Service Commission to recommend 16 weeks of parental leave for all parents, and to provide an additional 10 weeks to birth mothers to meet their specific needs.  These recommendations are now under consideration by the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee.  And once again I ask for the support of the members of this group.

And I am determined to move forward with steps to end all forms of discrimination, including sexual harassment.  The Chief Executives Board Task Force on Addressing Sexual Harassment has made substantial progress in the past five years.  It has developed a model policy for the entire United Nations system, implementing the ClearCheck screening database, conducted learning dialogues with the international community and created under important resources.

The Secretariat has strengthened its capacity to investigate allegations of sexual harassment by recruiting dedicated investigators and fast-tracking investigations.  Any complaint of sexual harassment goes straight to this group of sexual harassment investigators without having to go through the different bureaucratic levels that are usual in other kinds of complaints and we also have created a “Speak Up Helpline” and enhanced support to victims.

These measures have a deterrent effect on potential harassers.  And we are enforcing a victim-centred, zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment.  Fostering a safe, equal and inclusive working environment across the United Nations system is an essential part of these efforts.

Halfway to the deadline of 2028, we have three clear areas for improvement:  First, we will focus on reflecting gender and geographical diversity as complementary goals.  Just 36 per cent of professional staff from the Africa region in the Secretariat are women and this must change.

Second, we will strengthen efforts to recruit women to our field missions.  Our large and complex African missions account for some 600 to 800 professional staff each, but just one third are women.  We count on Member States to support our efforts, including through the Global Call for nominations to senior leadership positions.

Third, we will double down on our policies and tools to make the United Nations a more attractive employer for women.  We will continue to work closely with Member States and civil society, particularly from the Global South, to ensure that we reflect all countries and communities, at all levels of our Organization.  I therefore welcome the external review of the implementation of our Gender Parity Strategy by two civil society organizations and look forward to their conclusions.

I am proud to be a champion of gender equality around the world, and at the United Nations.  And I congratulate all those involved on achieving the equal representation of women and men in our Organization.  And I thank this Group of Friends for your strong and continued support.

Gender parity is essential to meet the expectations of the people we serve, and to build a more sustainable, just, inclusive, peaceful and prosperous world for all.

For information media. Not an official record.