António Guterres's election as the new UN Secretary-General is a stark illustration of how male-dominated decision-making means that female leadership is not just rare, but virtually inconceivable.

António Guterres, the new Secretary General. Khalid Mohammed AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.

António Guterres, former Prime Minister of Portugal, former High Commissioner of the UN’s agency for supporting refugees, will be the next UN Secretary-General.  The decision was, in an unusual show of unity, announced at a press stakeout by the Security Council’s 14 male ambassadors and one woman ambassador on October 5th immediately after the sixth round of voting.  These polls have been informal, but October 5th was the first occasion on which vetoes were revealed (without indicating their source) through the use of red ballots by the Permanent 5 members.  Guterres was the only candidate on the list of 10 to exceed the 9 positive votes required, and the only one to receive no vetoes (though there was one abstention).

Guterres’s success should come as no surprise – he has topped all six of these internal polls, held since July this year.  But logical procedure is far from the norm in this secretive process, and he had not until a few days ago been expected to avoid a Russian veto.  Russia, in its current Cold War throw-back belligerence in international affairs, had been insisting that the winner should for once and for the first time be an Eastern European.  The eleventh hour entry (five days before the vote) of Bulgarian Kristalina Georgieva to the race was thought significantly to challenge Guterres, because she fit the bill as an Eastern European and had an impressive record of managerial efficiency as the European Union’s budget chief and prior to that, as European Commissioner on humanitarian issues.  She is also a woman.

The demand that this Secretary-General be a woman and a feminist has been expressed with growing insistence by women’s rights groups around the world and by dedicated campaigns and petitions

Two central arguments drive this demand.

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