A Fundamental Question of Power: A Q&A with the United Nations Secretary-General
A Fundamental Question of Power: A Q&A with the United Nations Secretary-General

A Fundamental Question of Power: A Q&A with the United Nations Secretary-General

In this special Deliver for Good conversation, Katja Iversen, President/CEO of Women Deliver spoke with António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, on his approach to promoting gender equality and encouraging world leaders to carry the movement forward. 

In less than one month, gender equality advocates and decision-makers from around the world will meet in Vancouver for the Women Deliver 2019 Conference. On the agenda: power, progress, and change for girls and women.

We know that achieving a more gender equal world, and advancing the Sustainable Development Goals, requires a shift in power at all levels – including across some of the world’s most influential institutions like the United Nations.

In this special Deliver for Good conversation, Katja Iversen, President/CEO of Women Deliver, spoke with António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, on his approach to promoting gender equality and encouraging world leaders to carry the movement forward.  From gender parity across leadership to putting girls at the center of Universal Health Coverage, this is a Q&A that can’t be missed!

Katja Iversen: After one year leading the United Nations, you achieved gender parity in the Senior Management Group. Why was this an important first priority, and how do you plan to continue driving equal leadership and participation across the UN system?

António Guterres: For the United Nations, gender parity is both a moral imperative and an operational necessity. Yet its attainment is long overdue. That is why I took various steps immediately upon assuming office in 2017 and, last year, launched the System-wide Strategy on Gender Parity. We have made significant progress in a short period of time. Within one year we achieved parity in my Senior Management Group and among Resident Coordinators, our leaders in the field; and we are very close to parity in the senior leadership across the United Nations, well ahead of my 2021 commitment. But we still have a long road to travel in achieving parity across the Organization by 2028, particularly in peacekeeping missions, where the gap is the largest and the rate of change is the slowest. It is important to note,however,that this effort is not just about numbers; it is about transforming the UN’s culture, establishing an inclusive, supportive and diverse workplace, and improving the UN’s efficiency, credibility and impact.

Katja Iversen: You have emphasized the importance of partnerships. How will you encourage greater collaboration to accelerate action across all 17 Sustainable Development Goals –including Goal 5 to achieve gender equality and empower women?

António Guterres: One strength of the Sustainable Development Goals is the interlinkages among them. Goal 5 is a prime example. We will never reach any of our objectives without the equal participation of half the world’s population, and without drawing fully on their expertise, capacities and experience. But equally, providing a platform for inclusion and equality also means addressing the obstacles that exist across all the goals. The EU-UN Spotlight Initiative to eliminate violence against women and girls is one leading illustration of our efforts in this regard. This initiative is an SDG model fund and crucial part of current UN reform efforts aimed at bringing the Organization together to better deliver on our common commitments. Rooted in a strong partnership among the European Union, governments, civil society organizations and the United Nations, Spotlight’s diversity allows each partner to leverage its strengths. I will continue to reach out to young people, the private sector, faith-based groups, civil society, cultural figures and other allies across the world to elicit their best ideas and contributions.

Katja Iversen: The 74th session of the UN General Assembly will host a High-level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage. How can we make sure girls and women are part of all UHC conversations and actions?

António Guterres: Universal health coverage is a critical enabler of gender equality. Yet women and girls tend to be the most marginalized by the global health system. That is why it is critical that they be included not just as beneficiaries, but in the design of UHC systems, including sexual and reproductive health. Women’s organizations will remain crucial in uncovering service delivery failures and in influencing health care reforms. We must also do more together to expand collaboration beyond the health sector, including in the areas of water, sanitation and education; and to address the social and structural determinants of health that in most cases negatively affect women and girls.

Katja Iversen: You have described mental health as a neglected issue and called for “no health without mental health”. How can we ensure that mental health is part of the UHC conversation and the broader SDG agenda?

António Guterres: Poor mental health is an escalating global challenge with dramatic consequences for families, economies and society as a whole. Depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-to 29-year-olds, and people with the most severe mental health conditions die as much as two decades early as a result of preventable physical conditions. Moreover, anxiety and depression result in staggering costs to employers –including at least 12 billion days of lost productivity. And at certain times of life, girls and women are particularly affected, for example through adolescent suicide and post-partum depression. Governments need to dramatically increase the proportion of health budgets that they spend on mental health, and put in place policies and programmes that destigmatize mental health issues.

Katja Iversen: You have called yourself a “proud feminist” and urged all men to support women’s rights. What are specific actions male leaders can take?

António Guterres: The world needs more male champions for gender equality, and more leaders who are willing to use their positions to challenge the structures, beliefs, practices and institutions that sustain male privilege. I would especially like to see more men speaking up to change the narrative from one that sees gender equality as a women’s issue, into one that recognizes it as a human rights issue. We need to engage men and boys in promoting transformation at individual levels, in their relationships with partners, children and friends, as well as at structural and professional levels, for example in encouraging men to call out sexual harassment among their peers and to take on an equal share of unpaid care and domestic work at home. When men see other men modeling equality, it changes the culture.

Katja Iversen: The theme of the Women Deliver 2019 Conference is “Power.” What is your message to world leaders on how we can get more power into the hands of girls and women?

António Guterres: Gender equality is fundamentally a question of power, and throughout history women have been subjugated to a culture built for and by men, where women’s needs and contributions are marginalized and gender-based violence and harassment are normalized. Women Deliver’s theme challenges all of us address these power imbalances and to put more power in the hands of women and girls. To do this, we need to redefine our conception of power entirely, from one that reinforces patriarchal structures to one based on solidarity, respect for our shared humanity and commitment to the public good. This is a world in which human rights, and women’s rights, underpin harmony and prosperity.