To commemorate International Women’s Day we gathered at Humanity Hub in The Hague to hear a lecture by Prof Alanna O’Malley who is the combined Chair of UN Studies for Peace and Justice for both Leiden University and The Hague University of Applied Sciences. This lecture was a cautiously optimistic because it showed the progress we have achieved so far and called to action for women to engage and continue to pave the way towards SDG #5 (Gender Equality). There were two, important, takeaways from her lecture.
First, there are not enough women in leadership positions at the United Nations. It is true that the Secretary-General has made gender parity a priority and there have been some success over the past few years. For example, this year marked the first time in the UN’s history that all five regional commissions are now led by women. However, if we look at the UN Gender Parity Dashboard, we have not achieved parity across the different levels. In order to achieve this goal, the UN will have to continue undergoing a cultural transformation which breaks down some of the long-standing structures which disfavour women. It will be fundamental, Prof O’Malley told us, for civil society to continue to pressure the UN to move swiftly towards parity.
Second, it is very important to highlight the successes we have already achieved by telling the stories of those women leaders. Currently there are many women who are leading UN Agencies, Funds and Programmes such as the Deputy-Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, IMF Managing Director, Christine Lagarde, UNESCO Director-General, Audrey Azoulay, among many others. Professor O’Malley stressed the need to share their stories, and use their success as inspiration as we look towards the future. One of the guiding themes of her Chair is to shed light into the ‘invisible’ actors in the history of the UN who have had a tremendous impact on the organisation’s history however, their contributions have not been explored as much as they should
Throughout her lecture and the Q&A thereafter, Prof O’Malley stressed a very important message: we have to think about the UN as ours and we must simply criticize its work and shortcomings but actively engage and support the Global Goals for Sustainable Development. I am sure the attendant’s left Humanity hub freshly inspired to fight for gender equality in their own careers and surroundings. We can only achieve SDG #5 at the international level if we both women and men working in global governance and civil society push for the change we want to see.