Power is not given, power is taken – UN chief

Antonio Guterres

The United Nations (UN) Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, has underscored the importance of women seizing the initiative in the struggle for gender equality.

The UN chief said at a Town Hall meeting for civil society activists during the 63rd Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, that the central question of gender equality was a question of power.

He said:“We continue to live in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture. Power is not given, power is taken. We have to push back against the resistance to change because people do not like power being taken.

“We will only be successful if we are able to combine the institutional approaches, like the ones the UN develops, with the approaches at the civil society, the grassroots movements and the public opinion in general.’’

He told the meeting that “at the Senior Under-Secretary-General and Assistant-Secretary-General levels, we are now at 53 per cent men and 47 per cent women, which means that we are in line with the commitment I made to reach full parity in senior management by 2021.

He, however, added that while there were 26 women and 16 men in senior management, peacekeeping remained a male-dominated field.

“We need to have probably a majority of women at the headquarters, at the Under Secretary and Assistant Secretary level, to compensate for what is still a minority in the field, but we are making progress very quickly,’’ he explained.

He also explained that in spite of the progress at the top level, where he could personally appoint women, he was aware of a “pushback” moving down the ranks.

He said that all member states were encouraged to remedy the shortfall to include gender as a criteria and vowed to keep pushing, adding that “the battle is enormous”.

Guterres also promised to end impunity in the system, adding that the victims of sexual harassment were predominantly women and girls, “because of the power relations”.

The Secretary-General said the main obstacle to introducing a zero-tolerance policy was the doubt people had over its effectiveness, pointing out that often “the victim becomes a double victim” instead of the perpetrators being punished.

“To combat this, we have done something revolutionary.

“We created a team of six women experts on sexual harassment investigations, where complaints bypass the old bureaucratic system and go straight to this team, which might make some men think twice.”

He said that this second priority was greeted with a stirring round of applause.