There Are A Bunch Of Women Running To Lead The UN But A Man Still Might Win Again

NGOs, diplomats, and regular people have been expecting the United Nations to finally choose a woman to head the body for the first time in its history. But guess who's in the lead? Yep! Two dudes.

This year will be the last in outgoing United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon's second term and the race is on to replace him — and people have ~opinions~ on who it should be.

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The most common of those opinions stems from the fact that every single UN leader since the body was founded in 1945 has had one thing in common: they have all been men.

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UN Photo

The position isn't exactly "President of the World" like some people might think, but more like a Chief Administrator of the UN, who keeps the organization itself actually running. It also can be seen as a bully pulpit for calling attention to some of the world's worst crises.

The role of Secretary-General has rotated around the various regions of the world — hitting up all of the UN's official regional blocs except for Eastern Europe so far — but not a single woman has been named Secretary-General.

The call for a woman to lead the UN has grown in recent months, especially after a number of prominent female candidates have thrown their hats into the ring.

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They include: Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and head of the United Nations Development Programme; Christiana Figueres of Costa Rica, the former head of the UN's climate change body; and Bulgaria's Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO and a potential two-fer as an Eastern European.

The whole process is usually super opaque, which we'll get into more in a second, but this time around, the UN has been praising itself on its transparency.

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The candidates have been grilled in front of the United Nations General Assembly — where all 193 member countries have a voice and one vote — with questions from the general public. They have participated in debates, and the campaign to become the next leader has been more public-facing than the ones in the past.

So after all that, who's in the lead for the top job you ask? Who could she possibly be?

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Who will be joining the cascade of women leaders this year, adding on to Theresa May in the United Kingdom, Hillary Clinton winning the Democratic nomination in the US, Angela Merkel still doing her thing in Germany?

*record scratch*

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That's right the current leader in the race to replace Ban is former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres.

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For those paying attention, he is neither a woman nor Eastern European.

So how can this be? How, after months of campaigning and pressure from outside groups, can Guterres be in the lead?


It all comes down to the fact that how the Secretary-General gets chosen is already written into stone at this point — or at least the UN Charter.

United Nations

Under the Charter, and various resolutions of the General Assembly over the years, the Secretary-General is appointed by the GA "upon the recommendation of the Security Council," the body endowed with the most powers of any inside the United Nations.

That means the 15-member Security Council is the group that actually chooses the new leader, and the five permanent members — the US, UK, France, China, and Russia — are able to veto any candidate outright.

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The threat of a veto is why Boutros-Boutros Ghali only served one term, a rarity among Secretaries-General. The General Assembly then has a vote where a two-thirds majority has to approve the Council's pick — but the GA prefers there only ever be one candidate given to them and no pick has ever been rejected.

Before the actual vote is held, the council holds a series of informal "straw poll" votes to determine where everyone stands. The first one was conducted on Thursday.

UNSC members will get a ballot with each #NextSG candidate's name and a choice of encourage discourage or no opinion

After the vote, the results are tallied and each candidate's home country's UN ambassador is informed of how they did, as well as the highest and lowest scores, without giving them specific details.

The results, according to Foreign Policy were...not great for the women candidates, save Bokova, who came in third. In second place: Danilo Turk, former president of Slovenia.

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"Guterres came out on top with 12 delegates encouraging him to pursue the top job, three expressing no opinion, and none discouraging him to go for it," according to Foreign Policy. "Turk was close behind with 11 votes of encouragement." Bokova got nine votes of encouragement and five of discouragement.

When the results came out, "we were absolutely shocked that it's still the old boys' network," Dr. Jean Krasno, chair of the WomanSG Campaign, told BuzzFeed News.


Her group has been meeting with UN missions, holding events for the female candidates, and publishing op-eds, but now they're reassessing their strategy "We thought they'd been listening to us, now we feel like they didn't hear us," she said. "Not only us but the call for it from all kinds of corners of the world."

Making matters even more opaque is that who cast each vote is still a secret, so there's no way of knowing if any of the votes of discouragement could potentially turn into a veto.

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Candidates have to both get nine 'yes' votes and dodge a 'no' vote from one of the permanent members in order to move on to the General Assembly.

But who knows? There's still time before the next session of the General Assembly — when the official vote in the Security Council will take place — actually kicks off in September.

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When the vote actually does happen, there's going to be a lot of men raising their hands — US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power is currently the only woman who sits on the Council.