Young UN Futures Stories is an evolving foresight storytelling experiment launched on the 75th Anniversary of the UN’s formation and looking at how we reimagine and shape our UN institutions over the next 25 years as we approach 100! Read more about Young UN Futures Stories project here.
The First Woman UNSG
This story was brought to life by Young UN with mentoring from SOIF.
It has been co-written by Pepa Majkic and Rodrigo Mota.
Design by Gabriela Heermans, Pepa Majkic with support from YUN Branding Team.
Website support from People Activation and Break Creative Partners.
September, 2022. “BREAKING NEWS: Amaal Nazari is the first woman to be appointed as the Secretary-General of the United Nations!”.
Irina will never forget this headline. Although it seemed evident for such a long time to have a woman in the driving seat of the United Nations (UN) one day, it was still a momentous event when it happened 23 years ago.
When Irina saw the hashtag #UNSGisawoman instantly trending on social media, she got goosebumps down her arms. It literally felt like running a 100-year marathon and finally crossing the finish line. After that, her decision to join the UN became obvious. She wanted to be part of this. She wanted to be part of that present, that future she used to look forward to.
It’s September 2045 and Irina works as a Gender Officer for the World Food Programme (WFP). She still uses Nazari’s election to explain that having a woman being elected to the UN’s top job marked a turning point for women and girls around the world.
She is one of the coordinators for this year’s Global Gender Report. This live-feed data report tracks all the changes towards gender equality within the UN.
In fact, Irina is feeling proud of how the Report is turning out in the end when she swivels her head towards the door opening. Mala comes in: “Ok, I’m ready, if you are.” Irina shuts the report and says: “When it comes to food, I’m born ready!”. “LOL, how could I forget about that?”, Mala replies and both laugh. “By the way, did you see this?”, Irina holds up the Gender Report 2045 and smiles. “I did! And I’m so, so proud of you! I can’t believe this is actually finished!”, Mala answers. “Same! Like – when did all this happen?”.
Mala smiles and puts an arm around Irina as they start walking out the door. “Well, it happened when this organisation started embracing real change and all of you great people came together and worked on achieving it. And this was more than just hard work!” Irina sighs: “Oh boy, you’re so right.” She cuddles up to Mala’s shoulder while they wait for the elevator.
Mala is one of Irina’s closest friends at work. They have known each other since she joined the World Food Programme in Rome, almost 15 years ago. Back then, Mala had just come from a mission in Somalia where she felt it was very unsafe to work as a Logistics Officer, being a transgender woman herself. She was actually one of the first colleagues who came to see Irina when she took on the role of Gender Officer.
Part of Irina’s activities was to keep track of colleagues’ sentiments through regular pulse checks that were being recorded in the organisation workplace culture platform, and to decide on what kind of assistance they needed. At some point, she felt that it was time to invite Mala to Rome.
When they both met in Rome that day, they walked through a long corridor that led to the main entrance of the headquarters. At the end of it, Irina pointed to a picture hanging on a big wall. “You see there? That’s Nazari. The first woman to be appointed as Secretary-General. Amazing, no? But guess what? It was never easy for her too”.
Back in 2022, continuing a trend inaugurated during the previous elections, the process to choose the next Secretary-General (SG) went through a fairer transparent process, and forum and debates were open to civil society and webcasted. This amassed strong support and scrutiny both from society as well as from government, especially when Nazari officially presented her candidacy and made her pitch to the public.
Amaal Nazari’s election was definitely seen as a big shake-up, an important step in correcting a gender bias of many decades.
“This is what everyone thought!”, said Irina. Being elected to the international body’s top job was never enough. Women and girls all over the world were still lagging behind in virtually every Sustainable Development Goal and target. Despite some progress on women’s economic empowerment, for example, less than half all the countries afforded women the same rights to land ownership or gave them equal access to financial services.
On top of this, Nazari felt that one of her biggest fights had to do with some “unseen barriers” and a subtle gender bias that persisted in the organisation, even at top level. Convinced that structural changes had to start from the top, Nazari had played a crucial role in accelerating gender parity in every agency in the UN system. “Her cabinet was the first one to have a non-binary person serving as member of the UN senior management group – and this decision caused a stir!”, Irina exclaimed.
“Wow, that sounds like a real change!”, Mala replied.
“It was indeed! Building on progress made by previous administrations, it was actually under her term that a Global Act for equal rights and fair treatment was unanimously adopted by the General Assembly. Previous resolutions on this matter paved the way for the fight against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity”, Irina continued. “The positive vote responded to a global joint campaign, which included civil society groups, businesses and governments calling on the UN to adopt this revolutionary action plan.”
Listening to this, Mala was overwhelmed by a mixture of happiness and relief. She felt a lump in her throat. “Can you give me a hug, please?”, she then asked Irina. “Although I have experienced myself all kinds of discrimination, it feels reassuring to know that there are ‘game-changers’ out there fighting for a better world”.
Mala realises how much has been achieved since Nazari’s election. A sense of pride and self-confidence overcomes her. The UN is a workplace that is leading by example when it comes to gender equality. Within the missions and country offices, a broad range of programmes and initiatives have been launched to make the environment secure for every person – no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation.
This story is part of the Young UN Futures Stories collection. They should not be utilized in real-world analytic products as they are merely fictional pieces. The views, assumptions and opinions expressed in this story are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect an official policy or position of the Young UN, the United Nations, and neither of any of its institutions.