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Time for a change? Meet the five women in race for UN secretary general post

The security council has held two informal polls in which 12 candidates participated, and in each the highest-ranked woman was in third place.

world Updated: Aug 21, 2016 10:27 IST
Charu Gupta
UN General Assembly

Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and current Administrator of the United Nations Development Program, is one of the five women in race for the post of UN secretary general. (Reuters)

The United Nations is to get a new boss in 2017 and secretary general Ban Ki-moon says personally he would like to see a woman lead the world body that was set up 70 years ago.

Ban, whose term ends December 31, recently said “it’s high time now” for a female secretary-general after eight men have led the UN.

“We have many distinguished and eminent women leaders in national governments or other organisations or even business communities, political communities, and cultural and every aspect of our life,” reports quoted Ban as saying. “There’s no reason why not in the United Nations.”

According to reports, there are 11 candidates in the running and five are women.

The decision will be that of the 15-member security council which will recommend a candidate to the 193-member general assembly for its approval.

The security council has held two informal polls in which 12 candidates participated, and in each the highest-ranked woman was in third place.

In the first “straw” poll, Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, who heads Unesco, came in third but in the second she dropped to fifth. In the second poll Argentina’s foreign minister Susana Malcorra moved up to third. The former Croatian foreign minister Vesna Pusic, placed last in the first poll, dropped out.

Antonio Guterres, a former Portuguese prime minister who has also headed the UN refugee agency, topped both polls.

Another “straw” poll is scheduled on August 29. Here is a look at the women candidates:

Irina Bokova, Bulgaria

Director General of Unesco, Irina Bokova, presents a brochure to President Pranab Mukherjee during a function to celebrate World Education Day 2012 in New Delhi. (PTI File Photo )

Among the bookies favourite, the 64-year-old director general of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation is the first woman to head Unesco.

Fluent in four of the six official languages of the UN, she has been elected twice to lead Unesco. Bokova champions gender equality, improved education and last year she succeeded in convincing the world body to include trafficked antiquities in a resolution that aimed to cut off the jihadists’ oil and kidnapping revenues. Bokova wants to see a “more efficient UN”.

Susana Malcorra, Argentina

Foreign minister of Argentina, Malcorra is Ban’s former chief of staff. The 61-year-old was also the chief operating officer and deputy executive director of the World Food Programme, where she oversaw operations in more than 80 countries.

Malcorra, who speaks four languages, worked with IBM for 14 years before becoming president of Telecom Argentina. She was named the foreign minister in December 2015.

Helen Clark, New Zealand

Like Bokova, Clark is the first woman to lead UN Development Programme. Before joining UNDP, the 66-year-old Clark served as New Zealand prime minister from 1999-2008.

A former college lecturer, Clark is credited with spurring economic growth and employment generation in New Zealand. Clark is a strong votary of sustainable growth.

Christiana Figueres, Costa Rica

Christina Figueres, former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (UN website)

One of the chief architects of the Paris global accord on climate change, Figueres was the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change for six years. Her term ended in July.

The 60-year-old helped resurrect global climate action after the failure of the 2009 Copenhagen meeting. A career diplomat, Figueres was nominated for the UN’s top job by the President of Costa Rica.

Natalia Gherman, Moldova

The youngest of the women candidates, the 47-year-old career diplomat was Moldova’s minister of foreign affairs and European Integration from 2013 to January 2016.

Her country’s feud with Russia over the breakaway region of Transnistria, say observers, could see Moscow blocking her candidature. Gherman says member countries need to upgrade cooperation and build strong trust.

(With inputs from agencies, The Guardian)