|THE WEAKEST LINK; KUWAIT APPOINTS FIRST ARAB FEMALE U.N.
AMBASSADOR. BUT ONLY EIGHT OUT OF 191 MISSIONS HEADED BY WOMEN.
1 September 2003
First the good news. The State of Kuwait, where women are still struggling for the right to
vote, decided to appoint Ms. Nabila Al-Mulla as its Permanent Representative to the U.N. in
New York. She will replace Mohammad Abul Hassan, one of the longest serving representatives
who was appointed Minister of Information in the new government whose new head Sheikh Sabah
El-Ahmed Al-Sabah has been an enlightened force in support of women rights; as the longest
serving Foreign Minister he encouraged Kuwaiti women to join the diplomatic corps. Nabila,
who combines personal charm with dedicated professional work, served most recently in
Vienna where she was elected to chair the Governing body of the International Atomic Energy
Agency. She had served in New York (and had a summer house in Southampton) and knows the corridors
of the Secretariat quite well. As the first Arab female ambassador, she will be closely
observed; but that is the story of her life and she almost always managed to deliver superbly.
While wishing the new Kuwait ambassador best of luck as she takes over in September, a look
at the diplomatic scoreboard shows a failing one indeed. Only eight of the 191 missions are listed
with a femaile in the top post. They are by alphabetical order: Barbados (Yvonne Clarke),
Denmark (Ellen Loj), Finland (Marjatta Rasi -- one of the most experienced and effective
delegates), Kazakhstan (Madina Jarbussynova), Saint Vincent (Margaret Ferrari), Suriname
(Irma Loemban Tobing-Klein) and Turkmenistan (Aksoltan Ataeva). That's it. Even worse, some
industrialized countries with influential women groups replaced their outgoing women ambassadors
with men. That includes the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Lichtenstein. Jamaican Patricia Durrant
who displayed impressive skills when her country was a member of the Security Council was recently
replaced by a man.
That is the picture in September 2003, eight years after a Fourth World Conference on Women held
in Beijing where resolutions were made at the highest governmental level; 10 years after a similar
conference in Nairobi, adopting the "Forward-Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women to the
Well, the year 2000 came and went. Neither the governments, nor the international community
fulfilled the commitments undertaken at world conferences since Copenhagen in 1975. In fact, the
U.N. Charter of 1945 reaffirms faith in the dignity of the human person and "in the equal rights
of men and women."
What about the U.N. Secretariat, which prepared and highlighted these worldwide obligations?
Specific positive action by Kofi Annan included the appointment of Louise Frechette as Deputy
Secretary General -- a new position -- and Catherine Bertini as Under Secretary General for
Administration and Management, replacing Joseph Connor. He replaced a woman with another woman
at the Population Fund and dept the formidable Carol Bellamy as head of UNICEF, after an initial
failed effort to submerge her. In the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA),
he replaced an Egyptian man with an Egyptian woman. In the post of High Commissioner for
Refugees, he replaced a pillar of international aid Ms. Sadako Ogata with a man, a former Prime
Minister of the Netherlands. With the exception of Ms. Bertini, all departments are headed by
men, several of whom tried with varying determination to appoint or promote women to senior
professional posts. The first department to reach the internationally designated target of 50%
female professionals was the Department of Public Information in 1995 which rose to 60%. The
worse were the departments of special political and security council affairs. Still several women
distinguished themselves, though in the number two post. For example, the gutsy Carolyn
McAskie who went to the heart of every trouble spot outshined her Under-Secretary-General over
the last two years. Elizabeth Lindenmeyer is a credible and highly regarded pillar at the
Secretary-General's office. Jan Beagle in Personnel was perceived as more effective than her
Assistant Secretary General. (An Irish woman replaced a Malaysian woman in that post.)
Ironically, the Division for the Advancement of Women, which was established specifically to move
the cause forward is paralyzed. Its chief, Assistant Secretary General Angela King (Jamaica),
is one of the most experienced and dedicated staff, but she has been in poor health for a while.
After the irrepressible and dynamic Zuzu Tabatabai left as Focal Point, an inexperienced woman
was imposed by the Secretary General's Chief of Staff only to move her to an office dealing with
Iraq, where she has no experience either. But then that's the way the Chef's Kebab crumbles.
There is no doubt that when Kofi Annan took over in 1998 he was determined to make a difference
in the advancement of woman. It is disappointing to note that the Division on the Advancement
of Women is his weakest link.