The decision didn’t come as a huge surprise as he was the clear frontrunner in the race. While he is seen as a capable and talented candidate and is praised for the structural reform process overseen at the UNHCR, his appointment is also viewed as a huge missed opportunity for the United Nations to appoint a first female Secretary General. Campaigns by women’s rights movements and even Ban ki Moon himself arguing it is high time for female leadership couldn’t turn the tide.
A few days after the announcement of Guterres’ selection, the news came out that the UN plans to make the cartoon character Wonder Woman an honorary ambassador for the empowerment of women. After the selection of a male candidate for the world’s top diplomat position, this appointment is perceived as a ‘consolation price’ by a lot of women’s rights activists.
Soon after the news broke out, a lot of criticism was shared from various corners about the selection of what is seen as an overtly sexualized and Western cartoon character. Many questioned why the UN didn’t choose a living feminist and a recognised champion for gender equality. Amongst the numerous articles and blogs, the Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom raises the lack of intercultural awareness, United Nations representative of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women calls it an insult to women at the UN, and the Campaign to Elect a Women UN Secretary General asked for an urgent public enquiry into the process of the selection. Even UN staff expressed their disappointment with the decision, and some of them protested in the UN chamber at the launch event. A petition has been launched by concerned United Nations staff members to reverse the decision, which in a few days already gathered over 25,000 supporters.
It is clear that a development framework as the SDGs that prioritises gender equality cannot go hand-in-hand with a United Nations that does not put this meaningfully into action. It is still to be seen how the UN will respond to the civil society and UN’s staff outcry about the decision, and if Ban ki Moon can still reconsider the decision in his last months in office. That could be a WONDERful departure from his UN career.