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Politics Triumphs in the Selection of a UN Leader – New York Times

One female candidate’s campaign tallied the leadership of the 15 nations on the Security Council that made the final choice for Mr. Guterres: Among their heads of state, foreign ministers and United Nations envoys, only 6 percent were women.

“Misogyny is baked into the system,” said Shazia Z. Rafi, the United Nations representative for the All Pakistan Women’s Association and the former secretary general of Parliamentarians for Global Action, an advocacy group.

Ms. Rafi said far more could have been done by the countries that had expressed support for a woman. She drew an analogy to the aggressive lobbying done by the African Union 20 years ago to make Kofi Annan, the Ghanaian diplomat and statesman, the first black African secretary general.

“These changes don’t take place on a voluntary basis,” Ms. Rafi said. “They take place because advocates work together. It requires teeth.”

Still, the selection of a man was not a foregone conclusion for the 193-member United Nations, which has proclaimed female empowerment as a basic aspiration.

There had been widespread expectations that enthusiasm for a female secretary general would break the chain of men who have occupied the post for the past seven decades.

But of the five permanent members of the Security Council, which have the final say because of their veto power, only Britain openly championed the idea of a woman — “all things being equal,” the British ambassador Matthew Rycroft repeatedly said — until a man whom the British liked scored highest on the first informal poll.

Security Council members who had joined the coalition did little public advocacy for the women. On Oct. 5, when Mr. Guterres was announced as the Council’s unanimous choice, they all stood at the podium outside the Council chambers, smiling.

They stand to gain, diplomatically. The Council’s permanent members — Russia, China, Britain, France and the United States — are likely to lobby Mr. Guterres vigorously for their chosen diplomats to take senior posts.

Ambassador Samantha Power of the United States, the only female envoy among the permanent members, conspicuously said little publicly about gender during the selection process.

In an emailed statement to The New York Times, Ms. Power said that choosing a woman would have sent “an important message to women and girls around the world,” and she welcomed the entry of so many women in the race.

“We thought a number of them would have made strong Secretaries-General,” she wrote. “At the end of the day, though, the Council has to agree on a single candidate. You need only look at the vote totals to see that there was only one candidate on which the whole Council was able to agree, and in our view António Guterres is a very strong leader.”

The Russian ambassador, Vitaly I. Churkin, took pains to say that the Soviet Union had nominated the first woman for the post in 1953: Vijaya Laxmi Pandit, an Indian diplomat who had served in Moscow and later in Washington.

Still, Mr. Churkin was not enthusiastic about the calls for a woman to lead the organization this year.

He had warned early in the selection process not to discriminate against men. Much later, he said, Russia favored a woman if she was from Eastern Europe — diplomatic code for a woman the Russians supported and knew the West opposed: Irina Bokova of Bulgaria.

The Russians were also known to oppose the candidacy of Susana Malcorra, the Argentine foreign minister and career United Nations diplomat, perceiving her as too aligned with the United States.

Bulgarian domestic politics also roiled the chances of a woman for the job. Ms. Bokova won her government’s backing early on, but a second Bulgarian, Kristalina Georgieva, ran a shadow campaign against her for months, only to be officially nominated by her government in September. That competition, many diplomats said privately, doomed her chances.

By then, Mr. Guterres had already scored highly in the Council’s informal straw polls.

Karin Landgren, a former United Nations envoy to Liberia, applauded the selection of Mr. Guterres but blamed bias and lack of unity for the failure of all seven female candidates.

“Sexism, unconscious bias, the difficulty for women to penetrate men’s hearing all played a role in elevating weak male candidates over stronger women, I suspect,” she said in an email, adding that “opinion never coalesced around one particular woman.”

Mr. Guterres is sure to be under immense pressure to select a woman as his deputy — and to do much more to make a dent in the male dominance of senior United Nations posts.

Last year, according to one analysis, most of the senior jobs went to men.

Another analysis found that the United Nations senior management group consisted of 28 men and 12 women, a far cry from the 50-50 gender parity that the United Nations had set out as a goal many years ago.

Ms. Power said Mr. Guterres had “a formidable record on women’s empowerment throughout his career” and noted that he has promised gender parity when he moves to the 38th floor of the United Nations headquarters on Jan. 1.

In his acceptance speech, Mr. Guterres said “the protection and the empowerment of women and girls will continue to be a priority commitment” for him. On Friday, he announced that his five-member transition team included three women.

It did not go unnoticed that when Mr. Guterres was formally approved by the General Assembly this week, the United Nations also announced the appointment of Wonder Woman, the comic book heroine, as its mascot for women’s empowerment.

Some advocates of the women who lost to Mr. Guterres found it offensive.

“That was tone-deaf to the Nth degree,” said Melissa LaBonte, a political science professor at Fordham University who is a member of Campaign to Elect a Woman U.N. Secretary General. “As if they had put a Madison Avenue P.R. firm in charge of gender parity. My jaw dropped.”

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