A Secretary General Should Nurture Peace and Justice

<i> Margarita Papandreou is the international coordinator, in Athens, of Women for Mutual Security</i>

In all of the fierce lobbying on the choice of a new secretary general for the United Nations, only one woman is being taken seriously--Gro Harlem Brundtland, prime minister of Norway. And in the unofficial balloting that has taken place in the Security Council, she has won only two votes. But it’s not too late for the United Nations to realize that it’s time to seek out a woman for this role.

Women for Mutual Security, an international network of women’s peace organizations, has presented the United Nations with eight names of women, including Brundtland, who would be entirely suited for this job. But the names are less important than the principle.

The spirit of the U.N. debate so far has been that the candidate should be a “manager,” someone distant from narrow political and regional interests. But management is just a technique, a skill. The secretary general needs such people around her, but her major role is that of international arbiter, peacekeeper and peacemaker. She must be accepted as an independent actor by the key powers and other nations. Her authority must flow from the the U.N. Charter and the various U.N. conventions and resolutions rather than from the pressure of the more powerful and rich members. She must seek to bring to life the full range of peace treaties and resolutions that the U.N. bodies have put forward over the past 46 years.

It is our belief that the improvement of the human condition through democratic means and the protection of the Earth and its inhabitants are the most pressing challenges of this and the next century. The global system should be transformed into more humane and democratic entities, and we expect those who govern international institutions to reflect and promote such values. U.N. personnel, especially the secretary general, ought to be selected on the basis of values, vision and experience as well as on their formal or professional training.


More than 80% of the world’s people live in marginalized conditions or in regions engulfed in conflict and war, and women are disproportionately represented among the oppressed. The United Nations requires a leadership with the will to close, not widen, social and economic gaps and to heal our global community. The culture of nurturing is often seen as primarily practiced by women, but it should be espoused by all who cherish cooperation over competition and democracy over tyranny.

A woman secretary general could be the catalyst and inspiration for women all over the world to join in a potent, consistent lobby for the values we talk about--for a world of justice and peace. We believe it is an action that can electrify the marginalized masses of humanity into action.