UNITED NATIONS. FEMALE FOREIGN MINISTERS SHOULD PRACTICE WHAT THEY PREACH

 

FEMALE FOREIGN MINISTERS SHOULD PRACTICE WHAT THEY PREACH

15 June 2007

We have always advocated the appointment of more women and more youth in senior decision-making positions. We have unreservedly supported the quest of prominent women to the highest of posts. That's why we welcomed the formation last year of a mechanism for female Foreign Ministers to achieve wider participation in international high-level policy. To be clear, we welcomed the appointment of Dr. Condoleezza Rice as U.S. Secretary of State, having proven her competence and outstanding qualifications as National Security Adviser to the U.S. President.

However, we have reached a point when we would urge her and other female Foreign Ministers to practice what they preach.

A group of 21 female Ministers, hosted by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, met mid-May in Vienna as the Women's Empowerment Network Steering Group. Again, initial credit goes to Dr. Rice who pushed for it last year at the opening of the General Assembly in New York. It called for the appointment of more women in high positions, including as Special Envoys.

While the Steering Group has full support, one is inclined to call upon its leaders to at least practice what they preach.

Dr. Rice, the dynamic and assertive Secretary of State, is an extremely influential head of Department close to the President. Her leeway in making personnel appointments is, to say the least, wider than that of other Cabinet colleagues. Even in cases requiring congressional approval, she demonstrated the talent and capacity to persuade.

Why is it, then, that the two successive envoys she proposed to U.N. Headquarters were men? Clearly, such an appointment is at the highest political level. Clearly, also, the two gentlemen in question have their political base and proven experience. And while Mr. Bolton was controversial, Ambassador Khalil Zadeh is beyond doubt a superbly qualified permanent representative who made impressive inroads since the very short period he hit the ground running as Security Council President for the month of May.

But if Dr. Rice is calling on others -- through a U.N. organ -- to appoint more women in senior posts, she might as well consider taking action herself -- at least at U.N. offices.

Not only New York, but the two other main outposts have male Representatives -- no doubt qualified -- appointed by Dr. Rice. In Geneva the main Representative to the U.N. and other U.N. organizations is Ambassador Warren Tichenor who took office there in June 2006. Another Representative to the World Trade Organization is Ambassador Peter Allgeier. The only senior female there is Christina Rocca who is the Representative to the almost inactive Conference on Disarmament.

Even in Vienna itself, where the Steering Group was stirring, the U.S. Permanent Representative is newly-appointed Ambassador Greg Schulte.

Generally, women groups demanded that at least when a female Ambassador leaves she should be replaced by another. That was much after the era of the late Jean Kirkpatrick but certainly at the time of Dr. Madeleine Albright who delighted in having those special "women only" dinners of about 6 ambassadors and 2 - 3 Secretariat "vocalists." However, when she left to become Secretary of State she appointed a man to replace her. Such a politically sensitive posting, like others in Geneva and Vienna, may have been beyond her control.

But, then, why the high rhetoric if no delivery was forthcoming?

We mention Dr. Rice -- and the U.S. example -- because she is deservedly leading the newly-established group. But the same applies to all other countries, particularly those with female Foreign Ministers. Look at the limited number of female permanent representatives to U.N. offices. It remained about the same over the last 20 years, despite rhetoric to the contrary. At least the U.S. produced two female Secretaries of State. So did Austria, a co-chair of the Group. Greece has the impressive Theodora Bakoyannis. There were also the formidable Palacio sisters from Spain. U.N. Deputy Secretary General Asha Rose Migiro is a good example for Africa. The point is that we recall so many similar rhetorical statements yet very little progress; to be credible, a much harder effort has to be made. Statements like the one issued in Vienna may briefly embarrass male diplomats. But they also embarrass female senior officials who appear as if they are not capable to deliver. Then, someone could easily give the credit to the man who appointed them.

Incidentally, while we're at it, we were told there is a very capable woman heading the International Affairs Section in the U.S. State Department. Christine Silverberg just concluded a visit to Beirut where she impressed her hosts with a brilliant mind and a clear position. Her current job entails handling U.N. matters daily. Just, for example, could she not be considered for the post of U.N. Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs?