NEW YORK — The United Nations Security Council announced on Tuesday that it had come to a consensus on who will be the next secretary-general of the organization, bucking calls for the body to appoint the first woman leader in its 71 years.
Antonio Guterres, the former prime minister of Portugal and until recently the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, was declared the winner of the sixth and, as it turns out, final straw poll of the Security Council. He received 13 votes supporting him and two "no opinion" votes, with none of the countries who could derail his candidacy voting against him.
All 15 members of the council stood before the press to announce the decision, which was formalized in a vote on Thursday. Though it was a show of solidarity for a body that has appeared fractured more often than not lately, those who backed a woman finally taking the lead at the UN were furious.
“It’s hard to find enough words to say how disgusting, how outrageous this is,” Jean Krasno, head of the advocacy group WomanSG, told BuzzFeed News in a phone call after the announcement. “There were seven outstanding women who put their whole heart into their candidacy and all of them have been abandoned. It makes me wonder if they were ever taken seriously at all.”
Krasno was also stunned that US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power didn't do more to push for a woman to finally helm the UN. “I am so outraged at her," she said. "She has been such a champion for women and women’s empowerment. I think it’s outrageous that she didn’t stand up for women.”
Power, speaking to the press after the announcement, focused on the lengthy process to find a new secretary-general that was now nearly complete. The US Mission to the UN did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Power regarding the campaign to have a woman lead the UN.
UK Ambassador Matthew Rycroft told the press that he "wanted to pay tribute" to the women who ran. "I was clear all along that, although it’s high time for a woman, other things being equal," he said, "nevertheless the most important thing for the UK was the qualities of leadership of this position, and I think it’s fair to say that António Guterres has come through this new and improved and more transparent process at the top of the league of the 13 who competed."
Some tried to stay hopeful in the face of the council's decision. "While it is disappointing that a man has once again been proposed by the UN Security Council as secretary-general, we are at least hopeful that he will continue the feminist agenda," Antonia Kirkland, program manager at Equality Now, told BuzzFeed News in an emailed statement, "including first of all, ensuring gender parity among his staff at the Secretariat, and also prioritizing violence and discrimination against women as a pivotal issue."
But Krasno was not ready for that just yet. "I feel that women around the world, not just these candidates, have been abandoned," Krasno said. "Now it’s going to be 10 more years," she continued, referring to the fact that almost all secretaries-general have been re-elected after their first five-year term expired, "it’s going to be 80 years of men. I had such faith in their sense of fairness and equality that they wouldn’t do it."
Guterres remained in the lead throughout all six straw polls, while the women candidates never cracked the top two. Following the vote in the Security Council on Thursday, all 193 members of the UN General Assembly will vote to approve the Council's recommendation. The assembly has never rejected a Security Council recommendation. He will be the fourth European secretary-general and the ninth man to hold the job.